Growing Up Southern Baptist
"My hope is built on nothing less
Than Scofield Notes and Moody Press;
And when I hear a Christmas tune
My tithe will go to Lottie Moon . . ."
I was raised in the bosom of the Southern Baptist church deep in the heart of Texas. Both of my parents were raised the same way and my dad was even a Baptist minister. People might have preconceived notions of what goes on in this denomination, possibly thinking that it's all altar-calls (a term I'd never even heard of in the Baptist church) and that Baptists don't dance. So, here's a humorous inside scoop from someone who grew up being born again . . .
History of Baptists The denomination has its roots in the Reformation by a group of reformists who didn't recognize the redemptive value of infant baptism. A person could only be "saved" by their own free will and acceptance of Christ so they got re-baptized as adults. Having been baptized twice, they were called anabaptists meaning "baptized again." Today, they refer to it as being "born again." The spirit of the Reformation still exists in the Southern Baptist church; to be against anything Roman Catholic pretty much guides a lot of their practices.
Worship Southern Baptists are not "holy rollers." You won't hear anyone speaking in tongues, prancing on the pews or waving their hands in the air. If they do, they might kindly be directed to the nearest Assembly of God congregation. Occasionally, one of the men (never the women) might mutter an "amen" after a particularly emphatic point by the preacher, but it doesn't go any further than that. Real Southern Baptists go to church three times a week: Sunday morning, Sunday evening and Wednesday night. They also drive American made cars with at least a V6 engine.
Hymns Now here is an area where I can really expound. I began accompanying Sunday and Wednesday night services at the age of twelve. Not because I was talented at doing so, but because our pastor had the habit of calling on one of the teen-aged boys to lead the congregation in the opening prayer. I quickly learned that sitting at the piano immuned myself from being called upon to lead the opening prayer. By the time I was twelve, I could pretty much blow away any accompanist that dared an attempt to expunge me from my post behind the piano.
Now, Baptist pianists and organists have a very curious habit of playing everything in keys containing flats, never sharps. If a hymn is written in A major (containing three sharps) the organist will automatically play it in A-flat major. Most Baptist accompanists can't even play in any key containing sharps. I've always wondered about this and never could figure out why until I studied some musicology in college.
It turns out that most Baptist hymns were written in the latter part of the 19th century when people just generally sang better and with a higher vocal range. I saw several old hymnbooks published in the 1860's and most of the hymns were written in higher pitches than they are today. As time went on and people entertained themselves less by singing, (probably with the advent of the radio) folks just couldn't sing with the vocal ranges that they used to. So, back in the 30's and 40's, Baptist musicians would lower the key whenever possible. If a hymn was in D (with two sharps) it could easily be lowered to D-flat (with five flats). Over time, Baptist pianists and organists pretty much lost the ability to play in any key containing sharps, especially if all they played were hymns. Luckily, the organist at the church where I grew up was a very accomplished musician (so was my grandmother who first gave me piano lessons) so we'd just merrily play Holy Holy Holy in the key in which it was written (E major with four, count 'em, four sharps!)
Becoming "Saved" Is done by making a Profession of Faith to God that you are a sinner and you want Jesus Christ to come into your heart. Until you do this, you're going to Hell, so each youngster is highly encouraged to make their Profession of Faith ASAP. This can be done at the end of the worship services when the congregation begins singing the invitational hymn (Just As I Am during the morning worship and Oh Why Not Tonight? for the evening worship). During the Invitational hymn, the preacher exhorts those who've yet to be saved that if you don't "and walk out into the street and get hit by a car without being saved" you're going to Hell. I'll bet every Southern Baptist has heard the "getting hit by a car" scenario countless times. During the Invitational hymn, the person wanting to be saved is moved by the spirit to walk down to the front and whisper to the preacher that they're making their Profession of Faith, etc. Walking down the aisle to accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior is really the culmination, the high-point of being a Baptist. I did it in when I was nine years old after many Sundays of prodding by my mom and lots of pats on my hand by the preacher when I failed to do so. You then get introduced to the congregation and everyone walks by to shake your hand while the choir and organist perform "Praise the Lord." After that, you can safely go out and get hit by that ever-present car without a care in the world. You've been saved.
Baptism Takes place the Sunday after you've made your Profession. And no sprinkling either. (That's what Catholics do!) It's full immersion, baby! All your relatives are there. The big baptismal up front is filled with water. The preacher sloshes out to the center, says a prayer and gestures for you to come down. I was only nine years old at the time and practically had to dog-paddle out to him. He puts a hanky over your nose and leans you back all the way under the water, holds you down long enough to say, "I baptize you in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost" and raises you up. You slosh out the other side, bewildered and shivering, where nice people are waiting with towels and a change of clothes.
Sunday School Everyone goes to Sunday School, from cradle to grave. It takes place before the morning worship service when you're really sleepy. Each Sunday School class has a name according to the age-group that attends. After you get out of the nursery, you attend Sunbeams until kindergarten. The Sarah Class is comprised of the really really old women. The kids get to sing the songs like Jesus Loves Me, I've Got the Joy Joy Joy Joy, and Do-Lord usually with lots of choreographed hand-motions that the Sunday school teachers are really adamant about. God help you if you make the motions to "deep and wide" when it should have been "wide and deep." Baptists are really big on memorizing verses of the Bible, so you'd be in big trouble if you didn't have your scripture memorized for the day. Also, by the time you're in fifth grade you better be able to rattle off all the books of the Bible just as fast as a frat pledge doing the Greek alphabet with a match in his fingers. (Those minor prophets toward the end of the Old Testament have been a downfall to many a fifth-grader).
Training Union Same thing as Sunday School except it takes place before the evening worship service. It always consisted of "Sword Drills" where the teacher would call out some obscure scripture like Habakkuk 3:12. All the kids would fling open their Bibles and the first one to find it would leap up and breathlessly scream, "In wrath you bestride the earth, in fury you trample the nations! Habakkuk Three Twelve!!" The kid with the most points at the end of class would get . . . . hmmmm. I never remember any prizes come to think of it. Bummer.
Tithing Baptists are expected to give ten percent of their income to the church. It's in the Bible but I forget where. I received a dollar allowance each week, so a dime went into my offering envelope. Such a good little Baptist.
Prayer Baptists are firm believers in praying aloud "from the heart." Never, ever did we have any written prayers to utter (like the Catholics). Not even the Lord's Prayer. However, even though they were adamant about avoiding scripted prayers, a lot of the same phrases sure came up a lot over and over. For example, during a blessing before a meal there was always "bless this food to the nourishment of our bodies and us to thy service." During Wednesday night prayer meetings you could always hear "and be with those on the road that they may reach their destination safely," which was always rattled off in the same cadence as "and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus." Then up until 1973, one would always hear, "and be with our boys in Viet Nam."
The Bible is the True Word of God without question. And I mean without question. I remember asking my 4th grade Sunday school teacher, "Why is this called Colossians?" He replied, "Because that's the name God gave it." As far as Biblical translations, the Baptists abide by the King James Version from 1611 all the way. After all, "That's how Jesus spoke," and also, "It's the Word of the Lord."
No . . . that's how Charlton Heston spoke.
Strangely enough, I do recall that the Living Bible translation made a pretty big acceptance among Southern Baptists back in the 70's and 80's. After studying lots and lots of graduate Theology and Bible courses, I do have to admit that the Living Bible has got to be the absolute worst translation of the Holy Scriptures that has ever existed. I don't know how it ever got accepted by the Southern Baptist Convention (who are really a highly educated group of theologians). I really don't. Maybe Charlton Heston had something to do with it.
Dancing Baptists are usually identified as being against dancing which really isn't true. You know the joke:
Why don't Baptists make love standing up?
Because someone might think they're dancing.
No, Baptists aren't against dancing per se. My staunch Baptist grandmother could do one hell of a Charleston and even taught me how to dance with a girl. Baptists are against drinking. And what usually goes on at places where you dance? Drinking! Baptists are as much against bowling for the same reason. And horse racing. Roller skating is a questionable activity.
So here's a more accurate joke (my own, thank you).
Why are Baptists against pre-marital sex?
Because it could lead to drinking!
Vacation Bible School Absolutely the worst thing to be inflicted on Southern Baptist kids. Just as regular school let out for the Summer, us Baptist kids would be hit with two weeks of Vacation Bible School. It mainly consisted of Sunday school and church every morning at 8:30 am, but just for the kids. God, I hated it. I'd love to find who originated VCB (probably my great-grandmother) and sent nasty emails to their offspring. There were also lots of arts and crafts, Kool-Aid and marching around to Onward Christian Soldiers. If you ever drive by a Baptist church about 11:00 on a Summer morning, see a couple dozen kids fleeing the church into the street, you can assume that Vacation Bible School had just let out for the day.
The Covered-Dish Supper Usually took place once a month before the Wednesday night prayer meeting service. Go to any Baptist Covered-Dish Supper and I guarantee you'll find:
Several offerings of macaroni and cheese
Green Bean Casserole
Deviled Eggs, deviled eggs, and more deviled eggs.
Strawberry Jell-o with fruit cocktail in it with marshmallows on top.
Lime Jello with mayonnaise and crushed pineapple in it (We called it "Old Lady Jello")
There was never a barbecue at the Baptist church. Why? Because of what most men do when they barbecue in Texas. They drink.
Royal Ambassadors (RA's) An alternative Boy Scouts. Probably because the Boy Scouts weren't religious enough and because they were open to Catholic boys (gasp!). I really hated RA's. So naturally, I was elected president one year and had to make a presentation in front of the whole church when I was sixteen.
Girl's Auxiliary (GA's) The alternative to Girl Scouts, though only boys could be "Royal."
Church Camp A cult activity if there ever was one. You get two-thousand teenagers isolated in the mountains of Oklahoma for two weeks, preach to them for four hours a day about going to hell, and by the end of it you've got a thousand teenage girls crying and hugging a lot over the fact that they've been saved and a thousand teenage boys crying and hugging the girls in order to feel their boobies. The Church-camp people also do their best to keep any hanky-panky from going on. For example, boys and girls are not allowed to swim together and everyone has to wear a bath-robe to and from the pool. Ironically, it was also at church camp that I first learned what "first base" was, got turned on to Black Sabbath, and smelled marijuana for the first time. Not that I did any of those things, but it was there. The worst thing I did was to take part in shaving-cream fights with other boys in my underwear.
Gymnasiums Drive by most Baptist churches in Texas and there'll be a huge spiffy brick gymnasium next to it. Sometimes it's even bigger than the church itself. It's not that these gyms are used that much. Rather, they stand as monumental testaments that the church is provided it's young people (boys) with wholesome activities (sports) so that they won't drink.
The Sweetheart Banquet The Baptist alternative to Prom. After all, what do they do at Prom? They dance! And what goes on with dancing? Drinking! I went to Prom anyway.
And I drank too. . .
. . . It's still a good thing that I grew up Southern Baptist.