Sunday, May 20, 2012

A Faith Journey: Part 1 "Setting the Stage"

I was born into a fundamentalist Christian home, of the Wesleyan Methodist persuasion (Today the name has been changed to simply Wesleyan.) Both of my parents and their parents were members of this denomination, which is akin to Nazarene or Free Methodist.

The Wesleyan Methodists broke off from the Methodist church in the early 20th century as part of the “Holiness” movement, which emphasized the doctrine of “Christian Perfection” that John Wesley had taught. This doctrine posited that sometime after one had become "saved," one could have a second work of grace and be "entirely sanctified," eradicating the inborn sinful nature, and enabling one to live without sin.

In order to promote the standards of "holiness," the denomination forbade it's members to drink, smoke, or gamble and required tithing 10% to the local church. Other activities were frowned upon, such as dancing and going to the movies. Divorce was not permitted, except in instances of marital infidelity.

Another part of Wesleyan doctrine was that you could lose your salvation. In the most conservative parts of the denomination it was believed that it took only one unconfessed sin to condemn someone to hell. And since the list of sins was so long, it fostered an eternal insecurity.

My Mothers’ Father was a minister his entire adult life. He quit Bible College to preach because the end of the world was coming so soon than he needn't waste time with schooling. There was a world going to hell that needed saved... Now! His wife was meek and mild and played the role of a “preacher’s wife” well. Prior to getting married she had been a travelling evangelist, playing her auto-harp and preaching to prisoners and other societal misfits. One wonders whether she was uncomfortable playing the subservient role of wife, but if so, she kept it to herself.

My Father’s parents were “saved” in their adult years and had charismatic leanings (i.e. 700 club and PTL). My Father’s Father was a farmer who made sure the whole family was in the car for the long trips to church... Wednesday night prayer meeting, and twice on Sunday.

My Mother testifies to being “saved” as a young child, and my Father as a teenager. Neither one of them has ever struggled with doubt. My Mother's sister relates that my Mother was taken to the doctor with swollen knees because she spent so much time in prayer. Both of my parents signed the Temperance Pledge as teenagers and to this day have never touched alcohol or tobacco.

My Mother had one sister who married a medical missionary and spent 20 years living and working with a stone-age tribe in New Guinea. Her other sister was the black sheep of the family, turning her back on religion as a teenager, and has remained spiritually aloof ever since. She had issues with her Father. My Father had three sisters. One married a minister and the other two married unbelievers. Well, one married a Catholic who drank and smoke, so that was just as bad.

My Mother went to Houghton College, a Wesleyan Methodist liberal arts school in a remote part of Western New York. My Father's Father was janitor of the large college chapel for many years. She met my Father during her senior year, although he did not attend there, and they married about a year after her graduation.