“You know, I wasn’t always saved. I was rebellious. Got into trouble. Partied. Addictions. Made lots of really stupid mistakes …” Brother J began, referring to his infamous tattoos chronicling a lifetime spent lost in the world, ” … I ain’t gonna lie, jail-time was tough. But when I had everything stripped away, everyone gone, and absolutely nothing – that’s when the visiting pastor told me about God. Turned my life around. Got a reduced sentence. Ever since I’ve been out, I haven’t missed a church service – Wednesdays and Sundays. I work hard and volunteer whenever I can. I study the Bible relentlessly and I’m learning more every day. I work with at-risk kids – trying to keep them from making the same mistakes I did. Through it all, God is there with me – showing me his love, having forgiven me of all the wrong I’ve ever done.” The whole congregation clapped, some even shouted “Praise God!”. The pastor came up to the stage, spoke a quick prayer and then asked for the next volunteer to deliver their testimony. An uncomfortable silence quickly ensued. How could anyone top that?
For many of us who grew up in the church, having such a testimony seems like it’s proof-positive that God’s at work. “I was that way, now I’m this way.” “I used to do that, but now I’m into this.” There’s this clear diving line between the “old man” and the “new man”. But growing up into a Christian family, it’s often difficult to remember what our “old selves” were like as we were so young when we were baptized. Some people celebrate the anniversary of their “birthday” in the kingdom – I can’t tell you when mine was. I don’t have any idea how I’m different than how I used to be because all I can remember is how I am now and I can’t imagine not being the same person that I am now and have always been.
I’m not really sure that I feel like a Christian, like one who has a personal connection with the idea that even though I’m not worthy of salvation having been a sinful sinner and showered with God’s grace and love I’m forgiven. If anything, I’m more like the Pharisee, more apt to list the things that I’ve done right and all the ways that I’m not like those sinners over there. Evangelical Christianity isn’t a place for the fallen to kneel at the altar, it’s where the pure of faith stand tall before it as a living sacrifice – as a spotless lamb who bears no guilt and has committed no crime. But I’m not sure I feel like one of those perfect Christians either. Church isn’t my thing anymore as I no longer feel any sense of belonging. I’ve neglected Bible study as I’ve read it all before. I don’t feel like singing and I don’t like the songs that they would make me sing.
I sometimes wonder just where I stand. Before I had read somewhere that some teachings of Christianity are like getting a fix, you have to keep going to keep it in your system. Now it feels as if the worst of withdrawal is over. I attended a church last week and developed no desire to return to that church or any church like it. Having tried out other churches in this region – it seems like there’s nowhere that would be a good fit for me unless I changed to fit their image.
Perhaps it’s the pressure to have an awesome testimony that’s half the problem. The only people who can really have them are the ones who converted into Christianity as an older youth or adult; little children who grow up into the church never really develop an opportunity to be rebellious as it would reflect badly on the parents they have been taught to honor at all times. A great many millenials stated that one of the reasons they walked away from the church was that they’d seen how that kids who were raised in the church were often dropped like a hot potato when they made just one mistake. They lost their perfect status and could no longer be living sacrifices. They also feel that talking about any doubts they may have would cause them to be seen as unbelievers. There’s no safe conversation a doubter may have in a church that allows them to wrestle with the faith and it’s teachings. So many feel that they aren’t welcome as they are that they have no choice but to leave or to just not go at all. As for me – I still hold out hope that I’m just in a deep valley and it’s a matter of time before I’m back on the mountain. It just saddens me that Christianity isn’t making it any easier to reach toward the heights.