Posts in this series, "The End of My Rope";
I have a terrible memory. My brother can remember events from our childhood much more clearly than I can... exact words, who was there, what they were wearing, probably. I have no such gift. My memory is more like a big collage with disparate impressions and details all jumbled together. So, the recollections of my religious upbringing will probably be sketchy and leave out a lot, but I hope to be faithful, at least, to the overall atmosphere and my own responses, at any rate.
I don't remember a time when my Mom didn't take us to church. Sunday School and church were just part of growing up, and I remember how surprised I was in grade school when I first met someone who didn't ever go to church. I assumed everyone did.
My Dad stayed home, for the most part, partly due to the fact that he worked swing shifts as a cop, and partly because... well, he just didn't want to go. He didn't trust or respect preachers all that much, though he kept this pretty well to himself. He did support my Mom taking us kids, but his personal faith was something he saw as between him and God.
Mom dutifully brought us to church, first at Muldoon Street Baptist Church (in Anchorage, Alaska) , and later to Jewel Lake Baptist, I think because Muldoon got too big for her tastes. They were both Southern Baptist churches, with a very simple style of worship. This was before anyone thought of going to church as any sort of entertainment. You went to church because it was church. That's just what you did, and in many ways I think there are a lot worse ways to look at it.
We sang several hymns, usually, with the congregation breaking naturally into three or four part harmony. There was normally an accompanist, a song leader, a deacon or two, the preacher, and the pew sitters. That's about it.
A good preacher was preferred, but a competent one could hold things together well enough, owing to the faith of the congregation. It would take a pretty poor preacher, or a downright unpleasant one, to actually run people off. I saw some, mostly as temporary fillers or revival preachers. Men either much too enamored with the sound of their own voice, or else too timid to hail a cab. Those who looked on the church as their own little fiefdom, or who couldn't speak for more than a few minutes without revealing breathtaking ignorance. These didn't last long, though. Most of the preachers strike me as having been earnest, kind and humble men.
Looking back, there was a current of anti-Catholicism in some of the preaching, but only very seldom was Catholicism mentioned. It came more in the form of broad assumptions, "Of course, YOU ALL KNOW that a believer doesn't need to confess their sins to anyone but God ('Amen...')" or "If you'll notice, when the wise men came to Bethlehem, they didn't bow down and worship Mary...('Amen...')".
In many ways, the Little Country Church suited my personality very well. It was ordered, sedate and very plain. No shocks or inordinate displays of emotion. The preaching focused on the simple gospel; we were all sinners, in need of forgiveness and salvation. Jesus was God's son, and came to bring us that salvation. He could accomplish this because he was the perfect sacrifice, sinless and eternal (the Holy Spirit came up now and then, but all that was rather foggy). There was no other way to be saved but to be a confessing Christian, to acknowledge Jesus as Lord and Savior, and to ask him into your heart.
We knew all this because it was in the Bible, and the Bible was God's word, inerrant and infallible. Anyone giving the Bible an honest read couldn't help but see that it was God's Word, and those who didn't believe were just being obstinate... that or they were ignorant and needed someone (us) to set them straight.
So, we heard the Gospel every Sunday, pretty much. The emphasis on personal salvation - on repentance and public confession of Christ - was near total. We did hear about living a good life, and I remember once a preacher trying to get a grip on something called "justification" that seemed to have something to do with becoming more holy, but this was something completely separate and other than Salvation. Our first duty was to "get saved", and our duty after that was to get other people saved.
The message all seemed pretty simple and tidy, and very, very urgent, though there was little urgency detectable in the congregation.
When we moved to Arkansas (1975), we continued to attend a Baptist church, so the weekly routine was pretty much the same. I, however, was a Teenager, and I was not the same, at all, at all.