I was raised Southern Baptist, and steeped in that culture from the time I was old enough to go to church. I’m no longer Baptist, or any other type of Protestant. But I remain a product of that upbringing, in ways good and bad.
I’ve spent many words on this blog explaining my departure from Protestantism. I’ve talked about wrong theology and misapplied scripture. Several posts try to explain where Evangelical Christianity departs from the true faith.
My grandmother would say I’ve been a terrible host.
Some of it is my rebellious and contrarian nature. My need to be right and prove others wrong is a sin I fight against. If I offend my brothers and sisters, I ask forgiveness.
I do want to share the connection I have found to the ancient Church with those of a similar background. My hope is that they will be curious and want to come and see for themselves. But I can’t forget where I came from. And that’s a good thing.
Raised Southern Baptist And Proud
Make no mistake. I’m an Orthodox Christian because I believe that this is the True Church, and that only in it can we find the fullness of the Gospel. But I’m grateful for my Southern Baptist upbringing. Here are some of the reasons why:
Southern Gospel Music.
Religion and music are intertwined in Southern culture, and they inform every aspect of our experience. One of the best expressions of this is in the gospel music I grew up listening to in the 1970s. The harmonies of quartets like the Blackwood Brothers and the Florida Boys were heavenly. I still experience sheer joy when I hear these groups and others like them singing praises to God.
Here’s the amazing Vestal Goodman singing my favorite Southern Gospel song, Looking for a City.
Warning: crushed velvet tuxedo jackets and beehive hairdos ahead.
As a boy I spent many a Sunday School class standing at the ready. My classmates and I waited for our teacher to list a verse from the Bible. Once we heard our target, we sprang into action. Flipping those thin pages, we raced to be the first to find the given verse and read it aloud.
Baptists know their scripture. And that deep training in the Bible gave me the foundation that shows me the fullness of Orthodoxy. When we read the Gospel in church, I hear familiar words with new ears, finally understanding what I had only glimpsed before.
Vacation Bible School.
Summers in my Alabama youth meant cookouts, splashing and playing in a creek, and Vacation Bible School. For a week, our church youth group made crafts, played games, and had (you guessed it) Bible drills. I’d whine about having to take a break from my other activities to attend, at least for the first day. After that I couldn’t wait to go.
We drank fruit punch and ate cookies. And amidst all the playing and the sugar high, the message that Jesus loved us seeped into our being. I recall those days with joy as my daughter attends Orthodox youth camp, and learns to worship God between breaks for fruit punch.
Easter came early for my family. Of course there was the expectation of a visit from the Easter Bunny. But on many occasions we piled into the family car to attend an Easter Sunrise Service.
My family would drive about 60 miles to Moundville, a town on the outskirts of Tuscaloosa. A historical park there contained the remnants of an ancient Native American settlement. Their huge earthen ceremonial mounds were the stage for an annual Passion Play by a local church.
The play depicted scenes from the final day of Jesus’ life, acted out in the cool of the pre-dawn air. As Christ rose from His tomb, the April sunrise would burst above the horizon behind the mounds. The effect was breathtaking, and had a profound impact on me as a child.
I was seven years old when, after attending the Sunrise Service, I told our pastor I accepted Jesus into my heart.
Some kids had the Boy Scouts. Others had team sports. I had the Royal Ambassadors.
The RAs, as we called ourselves, was a discipleship organization for Baptist boys. On Tuesday evenings I rode the church bus with boys from our town. The bus made its rounds before depositing us in the field across from the church.
We’d spend the first hour of our evening playing football, or King of the Hill, or any number of roughhouse games. Skinned knees and dirty jeans were a badge of honor. Scoring a touchdown or being the last boy standing was the stuff of legend in our later retellings.
After a while the men in charge of our chapter called us into the church fellowship hall for a meeting. We’d hear about the missionary work of the Southern Baptist Convention, or listen to a local dignitary. We’d try to look attentive. We counted the minutes until we charged outside for a few more moments of play before boarding the bus for home.
After all these years, I can’t quite remember all the slogans and mottos I memorized to earn initiation into the RAs. But if you approach me tomorrow and offer up the secret handshake, I can return it with ease.
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Becoming an Orthodox Christian doesn’t make me regret being raised Southern Baptist. I’m thankful for the education and guidance I received. I’m thankful for the pastors and teachers that grounded me in Christianity and gave me a desire to follow Christ. It helped make me what I am today, and set me on the road to the ancient faith of the first Christians.
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