My Spiritual Life

My spiritual life dates back to the spring after my ninth birthday. I had been in Sunday School all of my life, and attended Vacation Bible School both at the Lavinia Baptist Church where my mother was a member and at the Pleasant Hill Methodist Church on the other side of the ditch from our farm. Sometimes we also went to the Vacation Bible School at the Cedar Grove Methodist Church and sometimes Lavinia Methodist as well. Our community was centered around the Baptist and Methodist churches and nearly everyone I knew attended one of the other, if they went to church at all. Until I was about seven, my mother did not attend church, but either she or Daddy would drop my sister and I off at Lavinia Baptist for Sunday School and then we would go home with my aunt Mary Nell, who was single and played piano and taught the Intermediate class. Mother and Daddy would come down and get us later in the day, then we'd visit with my grandparents or go over to see my other set of grandparents a few miles away. When I was seven, our pastor counseled my mother and told her that while it was great that she was seeing that her children were in church, she ought to be there herself. She took his advice and was soon a part of the congregation and it wasn't long before she had become a recognized leader, which she remained for the rest of her days.

Although I grew up knowing about Jesus, I really didn't know what the significance of His life, death and resurrection really meant until the Sunday before Easter of my ninth year. Our church was one of many country churches close to Jackson, Tennessee and our pastors were usually ministerial students at Union University. Harold Stanfil was the pastor then, and he had been strongly influenced by First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas which at the time was the largest congregation in the world. He was an evangelical pastor and on this particular Sunday just before the invitation he had everyone bow their heads and asked for those who wanted prayer to hold up their hands. Suddenly I realized that when Jesus was hanging on the cross, He was hanging there in my place. For the first time in my life I realized that I was a sinner, and that Jesus had died in my place. The pastor said to pray the sinner's prayer "God, have mercy on me, a sinner." I did, and something happened inside me. I suddenly felt happy, and knew that I had become a child of God. I can hardly wait for the week to pass and the next Sunday morning, which was Easter, I got up at the first strains of the invitational hymn and went forward and presented myself to the church. A few weeks later I was baptized, along with several other children and young people who also professed Christ over the next few weeks. We didn't have a baptistry at the time so I was baptized at Latham's Chapel, another church a few miles away.

My spiritual life suffered after I went into the Air Force, particularly after I went on flying status and started traveling all over the world and witnessing different cultures. Although I attended base chapel services regularly before I started flying, once I went on flight status I was away from my home base nearly all of the time and one day was the same as another. Although I had not forsaken my faith, I wasn't that active in church services. It wasn't until I got married that my new wife and I returned to services, first in the base chapel and finally at Capitol Baptist in Dover, Delaware where we were both stationed. Capitol Baptist was a fundamentalist Baptist church, and while the beliefs were the same as I had, the practices were somewhat different. The Fundamentalist Baptist movement was on the rise and along with it an emphasis on witnessing to the lost that Jesus is the Son of God, that He came to earth to die for the sins of the world and that He rose again then ascended into Heaven and is coming again to reclaim the world He purchased with His own blood. While at Capitol I felt the call to preach and decided to get a Bible school education. By this time I had become disenchanted with the military and had decided to get out at the end of my twelfth year. We moved back to West Tennessee and I enrolled in Tri-State Baptist College in Memphis using the remnents of my GI Bill educational benefits.

In 1979 we moved to my wife's hometown of Lynchburg, Virginia, which is also the hometown of Jerry Falwell and Thomas Road Baptist Church. I took a job with his first cousins and often flew him on charter flights. We were members of Thomas Road when he and others started the Moral Majority and it wasn't long before we realized it was a big mistake. It was not that we disagreed with the political philosophies, but we saw a sudden shift in emphasis away from the admonition made by Christ in His "great commission" to tell the world that He had paid the debt for sin and toward using government to attain what should be spiritual aims. In 1984 I accepted a job with Ashland Oil in Ashland, Kentucky where we were exposed to an even different kind of Fundamentalism.

While still in the Air Force I read Hal Lindsay's book The Late, Great Planet Earth. The book awakened a new interest in the study of eschatology, the study of last things. The impending Second Coming of Christ had become a major part of Fundamentalist teaching. While living in Jackson, Tennessee I read a sermon by Baptist evangelist John R. Rice in which he warned that placing too much emphasis on the Second Coming was not a good thing, that Jesus Himself had warned against it and that the true role of the Christian is to spread the gospel of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. Dr. Rice's admonition has since proven to have been correct as the modern Evangelical movement has gotten off track to the point that too many Christians have been left confused and disillusioned.

My feelings on what Christianity is all about are summed up in a short article I wrote many years ago after hearing an evangelist preach a sermon on having "your ticket" to heaven, a ticket that does not exist - Read the full article here.