Visiting a Southern Baptist Church

I visited another church this morning.  I was awake at 8:30 a.m., and I figured I might as well visit the 9:15 a.m. service of a nearby church, which is Southern Baptist.  I just wanted to do something new this morning.  I also wanted to get out and walk on this beautiful morning.

The sermon was about the Holy Spirit.  According to the pastor, the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament did not dwell in people permanently but only came upon people temporarily and inspired and empowered them for a task.  The same was true before Jesus died, which is why Jesus’ disciples, including Peter, continually wanted to do the right thing but often failed: the Holy Spirit was not indwelling them.  Soon after Jesus’ resurrection, the disciples did not entirely understand the nature of Jesus’ Kingdom: their question in Acts 1:6 indicates that they still regarded God’s Kingdom as national and political rather than spiritual.

In Acts 2, the pastor went on, they received the Holy Spirit.  They understood the nature of Jesus’ Kingdom.  Peter, who had denied Jesus three times at Jesus’ trial, was boldly proclaiming Christ to people who had put Christ to death.

The pastor said that, in this day and age, believers have the Holy Spirit inside of them, and the Holy Spirit will never leave them.  And yet, the pastor admitted that he identifies with Peter before Peter got the Holy Spirit: wanting to do the right thing, but often falling short or bungling things up.  How can this be, if he has the Holy Spirit living inside of him?

The pastor’s response was that the Holy Spirit may be living inside of us, but we need to use the Holy Spirit and be filled with the Holy Spirit for him to be powerful in our lives.  The pastor referred to Ephesians 5:18, in which Paul encouraged his Christian readers to be filled with the Holy Spirit.  Even after receiving the Holy Spirit, we need to continually be filled with the Holy Spirit.

The pastor pointed to a glass of water.  When we sin, it is like the glass leaking.  To be filled with the Holy Spirit, we need to confess our sins to God, surrender to God, and become connected to the Holy Spirit, which is like a power source.  When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we share the Gospel with people.  We sin less, and we gain victory over sin and temptation more often.  We produce spiritual fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, self-control, generosity, etc.

The pastor had two glasses of water.  He put an unopened package of Alka-Seltzer into the glass, and it did nothing.  Then he opened a pack and put a pill of Alka-Seltzer into the glass, and the water fizzed.  The lesson here is that believers have the Holy Spirit, but we need to unpack the Holy Spirit for the Spirit to make a difference in our lives.

Do I agree with this?  I agree with much of it.  I do not support being legalistic about confessing my sins, but I do believe in being honest before God, resolving to be kinder and more loving, and relying on God to do so.  Do I feel motivated to preach the Gospel?  Well, I am rather live-and-let-live when it comes to people’s religious and philosophical beliefs, and I do not want to artificially try to sell people a message or to start talking about the substitutionary atonement to them.  My faith and my hope do shape who I am, however, and that does manifest itself in my life, as flawed as I am.  That’s where I am on this.  Some may conclude from this that I do not really have the Holy Spirit.  But it’s where I am, and they are entitled to their opinion.

This church did not have a passing of the peace or greeting time.  I kind of liked that, since I was feeling especially shy and introverted this morning.  At the same time, I somewhat missed the greater sense of connection that I get at the United Methodist Church that I usually attend, and that I have attended for about a year.  At the UMC church, I especially appreciate the time when people share their and others’ joys and concerns.  That gives me an opportunity to care and to root for people, and it also shows that faith intersects with the real world, where people have joys and problems.  We did not have that at the Southern Baptist service that I attended this morning, but the attenders there probably get this in their small groups.

I will be moving this month, and thus I will be looking for another church.  I somewhat wanted to visit other churches in my present location, since there is not pressure: I will be leaving soon, so I am not asking myself if I fit in at the churches that I visit.  I am just seeing what they are like.  We’ll see what I do next Sunday.  I will want to go to my UMC church one last time before I move.


About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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