Friday, December 30, 2011

The Decorating Committee

A reader made a comment a few weeks ago that the Followers had a good system to keep the kids busy and out of trouble. This is true. We did have a structured and active social life. I never want to downplay the good things about the FOC.
For every special occasion, we had a formal dance. The formal dances weren’t too much different than the Sunday night dances. We had live bands. But for these special occasion dances, most of the teenaged boys asked a girl to be his date before the event, and both parties bought corsages/boutonnieres for each other. The girls or their mothers sewed or purchased formal gowns for each of these occasions.
Almost as much fun as the dance was the three evenings – Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday before the party when the teenagers gathered in the old church building to decorate. Each party had a theme and a group of teenage girls signed up to design the theme and purchased the supplies for the party. The party my friends and I organized was New Years. We went with a black and white theme, drove to Portland for the supplies we couldn’t find in the storage cupboards in the back room.
While all the teens came together for these three evenings, it was just as much for socializing as for decorating. The boys generally didn’t help decorate unless they were needed for heavy lifting. Groups of girls created a wall of names – with the party theme in mind, each teenager’s name was written on a cutout (boys in one color, girls in another); others put up streamers and wall decor. For the New Years Parties, we blew up hundred of balloons, threw in confetti and candy, and hung three large clear plastic sheets filled with these goodies to be dropped at midnight for the waiting kids.
A lot of drama could happen at these and other gatherings where dozens of teenaged boys and girls gathered. New romances sparked, couples broke up or reconciled, girls argued with their best friends. This church, these teens that God had destined to be in this place, they were our entire lives and world. 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Guest Blog: Who Can Baptize?

The Followers of Christ teach that only certain people have the authority to baptize. Only a preacher – an apostle on par with the Apostle Paul – can perform a legitimate baptism. Followers believe that salvation can be obtained only through baptism by an Apostle.

Since their apostle – Walter White – has been dead since 1969, baptism is no longer possible. The children and grandchildren of the baptized are told they are born holy – and may have an opportunity to be baptized on Judgment Day. Outsiders – “worldy people” – cannot be saved. What happened to the Great Commission? What happened to the Good News? I never heard of these things until long after I left.

Followers take Jesus' statement to Nicodemus in John 3:5: “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit” to mean that you must be baptized with water to be saved. While the understanding of most Christians and Biblical scholars is that being “born of water” happens to us at birth, and being born of the Spirit happens when we accept the free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ.

In today's message, Jerry Patton addresses the question of who can baptize.

* * * * *
In my last post, I mentioned how baptism is not owned by anyone. This is true, however, through some church doctrines and traditions, access to baptism has been strictly controlled and sadly - even prohibited.

In my studies, I have never read anything that grants a particular type of disciple an exclusive authority to baptize. In the New Testament we hear Paul talk about deacons and elders (also known as shepherds or bishops) who hold an office of service within a church and their overall charge is to serve the flock. We also hear Paul talk about the Apostles and the work they engaged in, which in his case, was to be a herald of the gospel to the gentiles (the pagan world). Not even Paul as an Apostle claimed exclusive authority to baptize. In I Corinthians, he counsels the disciples at Corinth about unity within the body of Christ:

My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”

Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. 1 Corinthians 1:10-17

Paul says that he did not baptize anyone other than Crispus, Gaius, and the household of Stephanas. It doesn’t stipulate who baptized the others. If it were important to stipulate a restriction concerning baptism, he would have stated it somewhere. But even here, in this case, when he’s discussing who baptized who – it isn’t addressed. It isn’t addressed because there was no restriction. There wasn’t then and there isn’t now. Paul spells out in his letter to the Romans and Galatians that we are free in Christ, not to sin, but to serve – for we are no longer under law, but under grace.

The short of it is that any disciple of Christ can baptize a non-believer into the Kingdom as they repent of their sins and confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Any disciple can study with a non-believer and when that non-believer decides and is ready to start their walk with Christ, the disciple can baptize that non-believer. Every disciple has a ministry for they are part of “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession.” I Peter 2:9

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. John 1:6-13

The Prophet/Apostle thing cuts both ways. With the authority they were claiming, they had an inside track on being in good with God and if you were a good boy or girl, they would give you access to a real church family and things flourished. While many of them were not even born or very young, these guys were building their own church-lore and ingrained it into their offspring. No one ever thought to ask, "What happens when Walter dies?" So who's gonna feed this monster. God isn't. Who has the guts to stand up and say, "I've been called (as the new church Prophet)"?

As with any group, over a period of time, factions form and they slap anyone down that tries to take over. So they're dying a slow death. They're cut off in so many ways. They flourished because of a Prophet and now they are dying because of him. Their savior is in Carus cemetary rotting, mine is in heaven reigning.

Don’t let any man stand in the way of your relationship with God.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Guest Blogger: Jerry Patton

Jerry Patton is the grandson of Oliver Smith (who was a preacher from the Oklahoma Followers of Christ). He and his wife of 27 years, Paula Renee, live in Arkansas. He is a software engineer by day and an Elder/Shepherd for his church.

Below, Patton recounts the memory of his baptism by Walter White.

If I wasn’t the last one to be baptized, I was awfully close. I think it was March/April/May 1968 when Walter White decided that one particular evening would be the last time he would baptize. At some time in 1967, we were living in Oklahoma City and my mother had received a letter from her brothers telling her about a vision or dream Walter had and that the time was short so in early 1968 she moved my brother and me out to Oregon City to join the FOC there. I remember being taken to the bathroom for a talk about being baptized, first by my mother (I really didn’t want to do it) and then by my uncle. I think they were very kind and understanding about how I felt, but it was something that had to be done and I needed to do it. I think I was anxious for some approval so I went along with it. It was never my idea. I was 7-1/2 years old.

That evening I remember being relieved that the baptism part was over, but there was more. After being baptized in the baptismal as the old church building, we gathered in the newer building for the Lord’s Supper, then Walter laid hands on those just baptized, and then there was feet washing. Another thing I remember: when they did have the Lord’s Supper, it was always in the evening. If it were to be done earlier in the day – that would be the Devil’s Dinner.

As I got older, my baptism experience bothered me. Eventually, we moved back to Oklahoma and when I was 19 or so I left the FOC. There were so many questions and those questions could not be answered and things just didn’t make any sense. I was later really baptized (my idea) and that has made quite a difference.

I believe baptism is a door you step through to begin your walk with the Christ. It is only the beginning, but it is an important step on the path that leads to an abundant life. It is a pledge to be a faithful apprentice, a disciple of Jesus. Baptism isn’t owned by anyone. It is free to all given by a God that loves us more than we can possibly comprehend and wants us to know that He is big enough, strong enough and wants so very much to rescue us and weave us into His life.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
Matthew 11:28-30

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Letter to Me

If I could write a letter to my sixteen-year-old self, this would be it...

July 8, 1989

Dear Suzanne,

Happy Birthday! You have recently experienced your first kiss and you are now with your first boyfriend. It will be an emotional year for you and next summer, you will have your heart broken. Learn from the experiences. Do not pin your hopes on him. He is looking for a wife to cook, clean, and care for his children. When you tell him you want to go to college, he will look at you like you are an alien. He doesn't want an educated wife. None of the boys in that church want an educated wife.

Mom has always advised you to play down your intellect around boys. Make them believe they are smarter than you. You should listen to most of what she says, but ignore that advice. You do not want a man who can't handle the real you.

Some day you will graduate from college and graduate school and become a teacher and a writer. Don't waste your high school years taking home economics. Take academic classes. Apply yourself. Apply for some colleges and scholarships. When you are eighteen, you will be able to leave and attend college. When they try to stop you, apply for emancipation. Ask one of the high school counselors for help. If they cannot help you, ask a college counselor.

You are disappointed that you cannot participate in extracurricular activities and sports. That's sad, but use your extra time to write, read everything, and plan a better future.

Read the Bible. You are only allowed to read the King James Bible, but go ahead and buy an NIV Bible and read it when nobody's looking. Keep it hidden. And pray for wisdom. When you leave home, find a community church and learn about God's love. Join to a college-aged Bible study. God loves you and has a plan for your life. His plan does not include staying in that church and being ignorant and subservient.

Do not marry for freedom. That's stupid. Do not marry someone because he can give you a better life. You can make a great life for yourself. Be independent. Fulfill your God-given destiny. Pray for God to provide the right man to be your husband. Marry a godly man that you are madly in love with. Listen to the older people in your new church. Learn from them.

Your world seems so small and limited. You think being born female means you have no choices. You think God loves you less, you are not important. But, you're wrong. Just wait.