Week 5: Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, 3 February 2008

One of the most striking things about the Bethel Missionary Baptist Church’s bulletin is that it contains no information regarding the service, beyond one scriptural reference–Galatians 3:6–and the pastor’s name. There were no hymn numbers, no order of service, no sermon title . . . nothing to guide a visitor through the service. They used a power point projection for most of the songs we sang, which were also found in the two hymnals in the pew. There was also a copy of

    The New Testament: A Marked Edition–see page 140

which was a Souvenir Edition from the 1984 Summer Games, Los Angeles, CA. It was a KJV version by Bearing Precious Seed of Lock Haven Baptist Church. This was curious, as we watched this church building being built through the summer of 2005. How these copies of the NT made their way up the coast over the last quarter of a century, I haven’t a clue. They were light blue paper back copies in good condition.

Over the course of the sermon, the pastor talked about the Lord not imputing sin, but rather the work of Christ imputing–that is, erasing and replacing–our sins with his righteousness. He cited a whole cast of characters in the sermon, and then took a detour to talk about how people who won the lottery–95% of them, he said, who’d won “let’s say, over a million”–had all said, “I wish I never won.” He talked about what people on their death beds say they’d wished they’d done more of (spent time with family, served the Lord better–but not “spent more time at the office” or “made more money”), and implied that persons of means might be unable to serve God, as they would be unmotivated “to live a life pleasing to God.”

The sermon ended somewhat abruptly, and we stood to sing Thank You Lord For Saving My Soul, which was prefaced and interrupted (after the first verse and chorus) with an altar call that seemed to be directed . . . at us.

I’ve had a lot of people presume a lot of things about me–and many offers to pray for my soul. I’m at the point in my life where I figure I can take all the help I can get, and even offers to “pray for me” that are obvious cover-ups for “I’m planning to gossip about you at my next Bible study” don’t rankle me anymore. But having a whole altar call that seems to be designed specifically for me (and Farmergirl, and her dad) . . . wow . . . .

We discussed this on the way home, and decided it was a problem of

Schrödinger’s Altar Call

Does a small church have an altar call when there are no visitors? Is the altar call specifically for the visitors? You can’t know without attending, and, if you attend, there will be an altar call.

Being the one who is normally more sensitive to things like this, I asked Michael if he thought the altar call was directed at us, and was surprised when he answered with a resounding “yes.”

The final prayer, offered by a member of the congregation, also offered baptism. I wonder if they would have warmed up the water and baptized us this morning, if we’d been “takers” . . . but we didn’t bite, and they didn’t offer. My friend Teresa says she thinks they might have, though she thought maybe they’d schedule it for next week, even as she pointed out there was no biblical waiting period.

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