Ah! Those were the days

By Darlene Warren

BIG SANDY, Texas--Don't you just love the ecclesiastical freedom we currently enjoy? Now, instead of having one true church that can send us to the lake of fire, there are hundreds of churches and fellowships run by ministers, boards and even (gasp!) congregations that can do the same thing.

The really good news is, if you find yourself constantly being thrust out of one of these Christian groups and into the lake, you can start your own movement and you can be the one to do the excommunicating.

There is a certain comfort in knowing that, if we fall from grace in one brotherhood on the Sabbath, we can pack up and join another one before the next Sabbath rolls around if we so choose. That sure beats being suspended from fellowship with God's chosen for an unlimited number of weeks or months.

There were people in my church area who got suspended from church because they got married without counseling with the preacher first. And then there were those who got suspended because they didn't get married.

There were those that were banned for smoking, being overweight, having a bad attitude, wearing makeup, being married to a woman wearing makeup, having kids that cried during church (evidence of a household in rebellion and out of control) and just exhibiting a lack of character in general.

What to expect

Of course, in the old days only ministers were allowed to banish, but deacons who aided and abetted in the apprehension of such brethren were awarded justly with all manner of benefits ranging from speaking assignments (of course, you have to start out reading announcements) to being exalted to head usher.

Yes, Sabbath services were exciting back then. Back in the old days you never knew what to expect when you walked through the church doors. I think that's how we kept the young people coming back every week. (That, and the fear that you would get left behind if the call came to board the plane for Petra and you were home playing sick but actually trying to write a term paper.)

I've often wondered if any of my friends would've snuck past the deacons to alert me with a telephone call to "get over here quick, we're loading up." I guess some questions are better left unanswered.

Taking attendance seriously

It was a time when people took church attendance seriously. Consequently, when you arrived at services and someone wasn't there who should be, you knew something was amiss.

You went to church whether you were sick or not because, after all, it was a sign of righteousness to be there and you were probably sick in the first place because you skipped Bible study. So the only other reason anyone had to not show up was if he had been banished to the lake of fire sometime during the previous week for some grievous sin and was in the process of receiving godly correction in hopes that by such ostracism he would humble himself enough to recognize how he had allowed Satan to influence him.

You knew that's what happened because the minister announced it from the pulpit. But we were never to hold their sin against them ("we bear them no ill will"); we were only to remove ourselves from their presence if by some circumstance we ran into them at the grocery store. (Step away from the sinner.)

This was godly, merciful punishment, the kind that was meant to make them want to repent and be able to fellowship with their brethren even more. Huh?

Making a list

Restoration into the fold really wasn't that difficult. The course of disfellowshipment ran something like this: You laid your sins before the pastor (whether he knew about them already or not); you were branded, given your sentence (it could range from 30 days to indefinitely) and driven from the righteous, complete with deacons at the doors holding flaming swords that turned in every direction to keep you from entering before your time was served.

You did your penance, you groveled, then you came before the minister to ask if it might be all right if you started coming back to church.

At that point, he would say: "Well, I think maybe a couple of more weeks and you'll be ready. I don't think you've repented quite enough just yet."

So the poor soul was left alone to anguish over his bad judgment once more, all the while feeling the heat and sensing the flames lapping up around him.

We are a product

How many times have you heard "we're a product of our society"? It can be no truer than in our church society. We are definitely a product! We can be proud that, because of where we've come from and what we've gone through, we play a hand in stimulating the economy worldwide.

It's people like us who've put self-help books on all the major best-seller lists.

If it weren't for brethren searching for someone or something to help them get past their church-induced psychoses, where would people like Dr. Phil and Oprah be today? No doubt they would still be struggling along as some private-practicing shrink or a two-bit backwoods reporter.

That knowledge is enough to make you hold your head high and shout "God bless America! We really were put on this earth for a purpose!"

Although fear played a major part in my religious upbringing, there were other reasons to attend church regularly. It wasn't YOU sports because YOU was just getting organized as I was exiting my teen years.

What really kept us coming to church was the sheer need to affiliate with other people our own age in a social setting. You see, some of us kids were not allowed to make friendships outside the church because, after all, we were to come out of the world, not be a part of it. Schoolmates and other worldly friends would only turn us away from our special calling. You see, we were a peculiar people.

I'll say.

So, instead of bonding with the people we went to school with and building lifelong friendships, we spent our time with people who were willing to turn their backs on us if the minister gave the go-ahead.

Unwritten rule

Well, anyway, there were the good times. Like when we had a church square dance somewhere in the back hills of Arkansas and the white lightning got passed around amongst us teens.

(I don't know where it came from and, even if I did, it's an unspoken law never to identify your source. As sure as you do, it dries up.)

We never knew do-si-do-ing could be so much fun.

I will be forever thankful to the far-reaching pastoral influence that kept me from those worldly people who were only interested in self-indulging interests like being on the tennis team.

If in the future you find yourself banished again and in search of a new church group to fellowship with, take my advice. Go to Arkansas and find a group that likes to square-dance.

The Journal: News of the Churches of God is available from P.O. Box 1020, Big Sandy, Texas 75755, U.S.A., and For more information write . To comment on this article or any other article or feature in The Journal or Connections, write . The preceding article or feature is from The Journal, February 25, 2002.

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