I grew up in a medium-sized town in western U.S. and in a small Baptist church. I learned how to preach by watching my dad and then practicing when I had the opportunity. But I never wanted to be in the ministry in my youth. Instead, I found my way into the retail side of the automotive business. I soon realized what valuable people skills I was learning at the hands of irate customers in the service departments of various dealerships, until I eventually went to work for a large Japanese automotive corporation. Back then, I realized that in vocational ministry you had to give up many things in the American small church scene. A small church senior pastor made about six to eight hundred dollars a month and that came with a lot of long days, few vacations and a lot of people who were a pain in the butt. A pastor’s family had to live a bit below the median income level just to prove one wasn’t in the ministry for the money. There was no such thing as equal sacrifice, and there isn’t now, far as I can see. My dad and mom handled it with grace because they really worked for the Lord and not for men. They always ministered to people and had a heart for those who did not know Jesus Christ. 
I give you all this background because there really was ministry going on before the rise of current evangelical thought. There was, however, a tangible and great division between the charismatic side of the church and what was known then as the conservative side. Both sides were against each other and against everyone else too like Catholics, Methodists and Lutherans. We couldn’t figure out why Billy Graham was so lenient to people who were “lost” in our view. Now, this wasn’t necessarily the viewpoint of my ministering parents, but it was the zeitgeist of the more conservative side of the churches, only then beginning to be united by the term “evangelicals.” 
Evangelicals became known for terms such as "inerrancy," "the Pre-tribulational rapture of the Church", "dispensationalism," and "the authority of Scripture" (mostly KJV). We demonstrated this by our excellence in expository preaching and the “winning of souls.” We also wanted to distance ourselves from the so-called liberalism of the “social gospel” that seemed to ignore the greatest need of human beings. To debunk claims of the Charismatic revivalists regarding miracles, we simply invented phrases like: “the greatest miracle is a soul set free from the fires of hell” and other fluff. Our preachers would lengthen out words like Hell and God. They would make sure our pronunciation of such words had a definite heaviness attached to the first and last consonants of the word, something like, HeLL, and GoD, and BelovED! We held dearly to doctrinal positions such as a pre-tribulational rapture and the millennial reign of Christ – even though the term millennial is only in the Bible once as far as I can tell. But that’s all we needed to form a new doctrine – a word or two. Remember the doctrine of the rapture was less than a hundred years old at the time. I wonder how people were even saved before Darby invented rapture thinking?
Various Charismatic renewals were happening in many parts of the church – even some strains of the Roman Catholic Church. However or wherever those so-called “revivals” happened, I was taught that those Charismatics were sort of like freaks with an experience-based theology which was not a good thing. We, Baptists, and others of the Reformed tradition, on the other hand, really knew our stuff. We had invented the doctrines necessary to debunk those experientialists. We had knowledge, and all they had was experience. We held up the Great Commission as our mandate and were credited with many of the great missionary movements in the modern age. We tried to trace our lineage back to Adonirom Judson, William Carry and Hudson Taylor as close as possible. People like Charles Finney were probably charlatans. Anyway, how could sixty thousand people really come to know Christ in just ten weeks!?
Now please hear me, I’m not trying to be overly critical of my side of the church, but simply want to demonstrate that I grew up with a very clear “us and them” theological bent. And it was not much different on the “other side” either. The Charismatic church was gaining notoriety and really coming into its own as a valid arm of the Church. They criticized “our” side for our wooden-headedness and our lack of faith in miracles and the other gifts of the Spirit. (Continued next week...)
Wednesday, June 7, 2006
Confessions of a Bad Evangelical Pt 1