I was baptized April 1, 1995, when I was sixteen years old. As of five days ago, I’ve been a Christian for ten years now, and it seems like a good time to take stock. I was slow to take that step, because, as I told our minister at the time, it didn’t seem that becoming a Christian would do much for me: I’d grown up in the church and “knew everything.” You could ask me about instrumental music or Calvinism or the conflicting interpretations of baptism and I could give you all the “right” answers, so what would change if I was baptized and became a Christian?
April 1 was a Saturday, and I had decided earlier in the week that, come Sunday, I would be baptized. But Saturday, sometime in the afternoon, I became very restless. Couldn’t concentrate on anything, but I didn’t know why. We were living in Alaska then, and the only physical work there is to do in early April is to scrape the driveway free of ice, which I proceeded to do for a few hours, before concluding that I simply couldn’t wait anymore and wanted to be baptized, right now. So we went down to the church building and my dad baptized me, and then my brother, who had decided it was a good time for him, too.
Now it’s ten years later. As our minister said as I walked down into the baptistery, it’s true that no matter how much I thought I knew before, it didn’t compare to what I know now. Mostly I’ve found that black-and-white answers don’t work as well as they did when I was sixteen.
That really started becoming clear when I came to college: I met many people who were clearly deeply spiritual people, who walked what they talked and knew their Bibles as well or better than I did, yet according to what I’d been taught, they weren’t “real” Christians. I had to rethink that, and the question of who is a “true” Christian is something I’m still wrestling with. The church I attended did a few things that bothered me as “unscriptural”, like potlucks eaten in the building (problem: the building is intended for worship, not eating). I spent days pondering that before working out my solution, which was simply not to stay after the worship service. After four or five years, I eventually decided that, as things to worry about go, this was not very high up there and didn’t warrant being a principle of conscience, so I stopped worrying about it and now enjoy potluck with everyone else.
More seriously, I was also privileged---or not---to go through a church split, with a divisive minister. I recall having a long conversation with him, along with my best friend, in which he told us that our concept of Christianity was “nebulous.” After he had left, he sent us a letter in which he expressed surprise that we disagreed with him, although many preachers took his position, and expressing hope that we would return to the truth someday.
But not all the Christians I’ve met since 1995 were of that sort. The first day in church as an extremely green freshman, I met another wet-behind-the-years kid who happened to live in the same dorm, and even the same floor as I. What a coincidence, right? I wonder: Phil became the best Christian partner I’ve ever experienced. We worked together with nearly everything the church did, in the four years we were there. Although it’s been nearly three years since we graduated and he left for law school, I still miss his reliability and willingness to work. I never had to ask if he was there: I knew he’d be there.
There were many others besides Phil who were a strength and encouragement to me, some of whom attended very different churches. Yet all of them had a hand in making me the Christian I am today. I’m not sure if I’ve really become the strong Christian, the leader in the church, the mature spiritual person, that everyone thinks I am. Myself, I’m way too aware of my failings and mistakes. I really don’t think I do all that well: I just do what I can and hope that my best is enough for God.
I had a lot of confidence when I was sixteen that there was an answer to every question, if enough study could just be done. I’m not at all sure of that anymore. I think there are some things that can be known, those things which the scriptures are very clear about, and many more things that have to be left to the discretion of the individual Christian and to God. I’m not sure if that’s progress or not, but I know I’m ten years older and I haven’t given up yet.