|Unofficial Motto of the Church of Christ|
The churches of my boyhood: (1) regarded the Church of Christ as the "one true church" and explained its actual 19th century origin as a resurfacing following two millennia of persecution; (2) boasted of having no written statement of faith; (3) held that salvation was through a combination of faith and works; (4) believed that members of other churches and religions were destined for eternal agony; (5) practiced baptism by immersion; (6) forbade women preachers and (in Mississippi) women Sunday school teachers and announcement makers; (7) celebrated "the Lord's Supper" every Sunday; (8) boasted of studying "the Bible only" rather than books about the Bible; (9) taught that "the way of salvation is so simple that even a child can understand it;" (10) held that all doctrinal mistakes come from willful disobedience and doom the person who makes them to hell;
(11) regarded political involvement as un-Christian; (12) held that all lawyers are hell-bound liars; (13) disapproved of Masonry and other secret organizations; (14) believed that divorced people who remarry commit adultery; (15) denied the intellectual reality of atheism ("The fool hath said in his heart that there is no God);" (16) regarded instrumental music during worship services as sinful (people weren't even allowed to bring a piano into the church for a wedding for fear non-church attendees might think the church used musical instruments all the time); (17) denounced Christmas as a "pagan holiday;" (18) kept no membership roles because only God knows who is and isn't a member of his church and; (19) kept no tithing roles because the promise of future income would eliminate the necessity of faith; (20) believed that sincere seekers of God in all places and at all times would be led by God to a Church of Christ; (21) Churches of Christ that disagreed with other Churches of Christ claimed that these other churches were "false churches" and were therefore doomed to hell; (22) some churches forbade the use of more than one glass for communion because when he instituted "the Lord's Supper," Christ said "this cup" rather than "these cups."
Although people (ourselves included) commonly referred to our church as the Church of Christ, its official name was given in the plural because that's how it appears in the Bible. This meant that instead of saying, "I belong to Johnson Grove Church of Christ," I was supposed to say, "I belong to Johnson Grove Churches of Christ." Another example of literalism turned fanaticism comes from the occasional ministerial debates I heard that ran along the following line and that, coincidentally, related to my own history. To whit: the Bible says that a person has to be baptized to be saved; when I was twelve, I asked to be baptized during a revival at a church without a baptistry; I was taken to another church for baptism.
The debate question was this: if someone dies in a wreck on the way to be baptized, will he go to heaven or hell? The invariable conclusion was that he would go to hell because he failed to meet one of the requirements of salvation. Small wonder that even the literalistic Southern Baptists considered the Church of Christ nutty, not that we cared about their opinion because they weren't even Christians in our view.
The most painful event of my boyhood occurred one day when I was thirteen and running my paper route. I had been struggling for two years to hold onto my faith, and in exasperation, I said to God at a spot in the street that I still remember, "I don't know how you can expect me to trust you when you failed your own son" (as he hung on the cross, Christ had uttered, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"). I don't know how many seconds passed before it occurred to me that I might have committed the unpardonable sin (a sin that is mentioned in the Bible but, strange to say, never defined), but I lived in terror for years.
The prospect of telling anyone what I had done seemed unthinkable, yet I became so desperate for reassurance that, a few years later, I went to the country home of Bro Buford Stewart (we called our preachers Brother because the Bible didn't authorize the word reverend) the man who baptized me. Once there, my courage failed, so I suffered for several more years until I had so little remaining faith that I stopped worrying and started hating. First, I hated the Church of Christ for the needless pain I had endured because I trusted it; I hated the people who abandoned me when I left the church; and I hated the deity that it represented, not because I still believed in him, but because of how much I had suffered because of what I had been told about him. From my earliest memory, I had been made to feel so afraid of God that I would sometimes hide under the bed in tearful terror after a "fire and brimstone" sermon (something that the Church of Christ was big on), and I now concluded that this made me a victim of emotional abuse.
Some men my age remember the War in Vietnam--I remember living in daily fear of eternal hell. I have been told that, had I grown up with a kindly image of God in some other church, I wouldn't have become an atheist, but all churches worship a deity that is depicted as all-powerful and all-loving yet one that created an imperfect world and that continues to remain passive in the face of an infinity of suffering and death, much of it committed in his name. Even if a deity should exist, I believe that we commit an act of cowardice and even immorality when we profess to love him for "sending his only begotten son to die for our sins," when it is he who is in need of our forgiveness. We might as well whitewash shit and serve it up as bread.