Growing up fundagelical meant that our very progressive youth group used innovative new evangelism tools such as fire and brimstone sermons, Chick tracts, and Christian films. Christian rock music was still a sin. After all, the rhythm came from Africa and was designed to elicit a sexual frenzy. We couldn’t have anyone rocking out to “We Are One in the Spirit.” Even the lyrics are suggestive. We sang hymns, but we did get copies of The Crusaders Comics and would set up a battered old screen, break out a film projector and show a Christian film. These films all had a heavy-handed evangelical message designed to get us to give our lives to Jesus.
Why would you show evangelical films to a bunch of teenagers who grew up in the church and had accepted Jesus as their personal Lord and savior in their pre-school days? The answer is simple: Maybe one of us was not really a Christian because our initial commitments weren’t sincere or maybe someone needed to re-commit their life to Jesus. After all, we were totally depraved sinners who backslid constantly. I mean even I listened to a KISS album once. I was under possible demonic influence from the backward lyrics hidden within the groves of that LP.
Rededicating your life was an annual event for most of us church kids. In my Southern Baptist church, altar calls were a twice a week event. Once during the mid-week Youth group meeting and once every Sunday. They were long drawn out altar calls because they couldn’t end until someone went down to give their life to Jesus or re-dedicate their lives. The longer the altar call went on, the more manipulation was used to get someone, anyone to come to the altar “just as they are.”
Back in the 1970’s one Christian film innovated evangelism by adding a new fear to scare us down to the altar. It was released in 1972 and was available for churches to show and was called A Thief In The Night. Bad acting, directing and a horrific script paled in comparison to the tragic attempt of adults trying to be “Hip.” Heavy-handed sermons were woven into this tale of terror about people who weren’t Rapture ready.
In this film, a young woman named Patty wakes up to find that the Rapture has happened and she has been left behind. Flashbacks recall all the missed opportunities she had to accept Jesus as her Lord and Savior. She is betrayed by friends, hunted by the One World Government. She witnesses people executed for refusing to take the mark of the beast. Luckily she wakes up to find out it was only a dream . . . or is it?
This gem of a film scared the hell out of me; it scared my friends, and it scared half the leaders as well. Now we not only had to fear the danger of hell if we were hit by a bus on the way home without accepting Jesus, but now we also had to fear missing the Rapture. After showing the film, the youth pastor asked each of us if we were indeed Rapture ready. Were we really sold out for Jesus? Were we lukewarm Christians? Had we backslidden? A group of about twenty terrified teens went forward that night to re-dedicate. Fundagelical fear tactics put us on our knees, and the youth pastor got his quota.
I experienced Déjà vu when Tim Lahaye and Jerry B. Jenkins crapped out a poorly written series of sermonettes mixed with Christian torture porn called the Left Behind series. I was a youth pastor then, and I was scolded for not suggesting the teens read the books, I was rebuked for not taking the teens to see the movie, and I was almost fired for pointing out all the theological problems with the book. The senior pastor was unhappy with me and began to question my allegiance to dispensationalism. I had to confess that I wasn’t a dispensationalist. I was told to keep that to myself. As long as I never mentioned it, I would be allowed to serve, but I should definitely consider my chances of becoming a senior pastor as zero.
This was one of my early steps in going rogue. I just couldn’t scare the hell out of teenagers to get them to say a magic prayer and receive their fire insurance or in this case buy a ticket to fly. I thought of my own upbringing and how afraid of God I was. I know, fundagelicals love to quote Proverbs 9:10 “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding.” (KJV) I also know that the Hebrew word, yir’ah, translated as fear can also be translated as reverence and respect. I think that is why I prefer the Good News Bible’s translation “To be wise you must first have reverence for the Lord. If you know the Holy One, you have understanding.”
Manipulators use fear to control people. Fear got me to the altar, but I couldn’t mature and become like Jesus because I was too afraid to be in a relationship with Him. Who wants to get friendly with a guy that’s going to allow Satan to possess you, leave you behind, let you get tortured, resurrect you than throw you into hell to be tortured for all eternity because you used a Magic 8 Ball.
I wasn’t able to have a relationship with Jesus until I lost the fear. All I had to do was dump Fundamentalism, Evangelicalism, Calvinism, Dispensationalism and a few more “isms” and follow Jesus. By the way, Jesus told me to share this with everyone: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27 NIV) I like this guy.
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