Friday, November 2, 2012

How Did I Become a Presbyterian?

How did I become a Presbyterian?
I am grateful to God that I was raised in a godly, Bible-believing, Baptist home in West Virginia. My parents took me to Baptist churches until I left for college.  I came to Christ under Baptist preaching, and I was nurtured in my faith throughout my teen years in a Baptist youth group.  My dad is a Baptist minister.  My closest friends to this day are still Baptists.  I hold nothing against the Baptists, and they will always hold a special place in my heart.  
My journey to Presbyterianism began when I went left my home and church to attend college.  During my first weeks, an upperclassman recommended that I read The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination by Loraine Boettner.[1]  It was the first theological book that I ever purchased (or read, for that matter), and it changed my life. It introduced me to a way of understanding Scripture that I had never learned as a Baptist.  It explained the “Doctrines of Grace”—sometimes called Calvinism or Reformed Theology.[2]  After college, I went to seminary to prepare to be a preacher.  From the reading of that book and on through seminary, I was a Baptist who was “Reformed.”   During seminary, as I learned to study the Bible word-by-word and verse-by-verse, I came to believe that churches should be governed by elders instead of lone pastors, and that no church should be independent from other churches.  I became convinced that local congregations should unite themselves as much they can to the larger Church.  Before I finished seminary, I had taken two important steps toward Presbyterianism—I was a Calvinist, and I embraced Presbyterian polity.[4]
Not only had I been raised a Baptist, but I had also been raised a Fundamentalist.  Fundamentalists are separatist Christians who are often accused of legalism.  They tend to embrace certain rules for living that end up isolating them from others who do not follow those rules.[5]  I became disillusioned with fundamentalism when I was encouraged to separate from many other God-fearing, Bible-believing Christians over things that I did not feel were important.  After I got married and started having children, I dropped out of seminary. My disillusionment left me with little incentive to become a preacher. Instead I became a school administrator in a school run by a fundamentalist church.  During my two years there, the church leadership got wind that I was a Calvinist and began a process of separation from me.  This process was very painful for me and my young family.
During this difficult time, I reached out to a local Presbyterian pastor hoping to find comfort and encouragement. The pastor spent many hours listening to and encouraging me.  When I finally quit my job, he created a staff position for me at his church so that my family could recover from the damage done at the fundamentalist church.  In this Presbyterian church, I was introduced to grace like never before.  Although I had been taught the Gospel throughout my life, it was not until I was swimming in grace that I learned how the Gospel really saved me and freed me from sin and guilt.  I had studied the Doctrines of Grace on my own, but now I finally got to see what they looked like when they were preached and applied in church consistently.    
It was not long before I took a third and final step toward Presbyterianism.  Infant Baptism was the only thing standing in the way of my being a completely convinced Presbyterian.  At first I had a difficult time seeing the doctrine and practice in the Bible.  But I learned quickly that it had been staring me in the face all along, hidden by years of Dispensational[6] teachings. After my wife and I became convinced that infant baptism was biblical, we joyously had our own young children baptized and purposed to become and remain Presbyterians.  I have been a Presbyterian ever since.
After I attended Presbyterian churches for nearly a decade, God reignited my desire to become preacher, and I was ordained a Presbyterian minister.  My first church was a small congregation in a coal-mining community in my beloved West Virginia.  As a former Baptist, I was able to see that even this small Presbyterian congregation was strongly influenced by the Baptist teachings that had settled over many generations into the hills and “hollers.” I encountered many of the same questions that I myself had wrestled with over the years, and I saw the need help others understand Presbyterianism as I had come to understand it.  

[1] Boettner, Loraine. The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination. Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Pub. Co, 1932.
[2] These terms will be explained in the chapters that follow.
[4] “Polity” is a word used to describe how a church is structured—in this case, the church has more than one elder, and the church is united together with other churches to form a larger church organization. 
[5] This is a very simplistic explanation of what fundamentalism is.  Fundamentalism is much more complex than this.  But this is not a book about Fundamentalism, so a more detailed explanation will have to await the publication of mine and Steve Crawford’s manuscript Fleeing Fundamentalism Without Forsaking the Faith.  
[6] For more on Dispensationalism, see chapter ???.

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