When I was a child faith matters were all wrapped up in one huge bundle with all of equal value. I learned, “Christians don’t smoke and drink” and “Christians believe in the virgin birth and resurrection” and “Christians go to Sunday school and Sunday evening service.” I was too young to make any distinction between smoking, the resurrection and Sunday school attendance—they all were in the “Christian bundle” and of equal value for judging who was a Christian or not. I assumed people who drank beer or denied the resurrection or didn’t have a Sunday evening service weren’t Christians—at least not “real” Christians (later termed “Born again Christians”). As a child I made no distinction between levels of faith and practice and simply lumped them all together in one huge bundle. It is simply how a child views things.
This single-bundle approach was really messy. I was raised in the Pilgrim Holiness Church a small denomination in the “holiness movement” that had all kind of rules and expectations. I am not sure if they actually told me all these things, but I could deduce from the behavior of all the people in church what Christians (at least “real” Christians) did and didn’t do. For instance Christians didn’t go to the movies. None. I remember sneaking off to see The Longest Day in high school and hoping that Jesus wouldn’t return before I escaped the drive-in movie. You may laugh now at that—but the feelings were real. I knew no Christian anywhere in my world who had ever gone to a movie after they became a Christian. As far as I knew, I was the only one. I just assumed this lifestyle was a clear definition of a “real” Christian so when I defied it I wasn’t sure for a while if I’d left the kingdom of God. But it was more than attending movies I couldn’t do as a “Christian boy.” I couldn’t go bowling either because it was worldly. I couldn’t dance because it was sexual. I couldn’t bounce a ball on Sunday because it was the Lord’s Day. I couldn’t wear shorts because it was “lascivious.” In fact I wasn’t allowed to participate at all in “mixed bathing” (which was going swimming with the opposite sex). (Since shorts were lascivious you don’t need an explanation for why we couldn’t go swimming with girls.) When I was ten years old I had never met a Christian woman who wore jewelry—any jewelry—earrings, finger rings or even wedding rings. None. (I even knew the verses by heart in 1 Peter that condemning a woman’s wearing gold and silver or plaiting their hair.) Speaking of hair I do not believe as a child I had ever met a Christian woman with “bobbed hair” –I just assumed all real Christian women would realize their hair was given to them by God as their glory and they should never cut it. Same with slacks—the first Christian woman I saw wearing “pants” was my junior high Sunday school teacher—on her farm. I assumed she was “not where she ought to be spiritually” when I uncovered her secret one Sunday afternoon.
This all sounds like I was raised in a cult. In a way I was, but not really. We may have been a “sect” but we were not a cult—we were an orthodox Christian denomination that followed many of John Wesley’s teachings (including his views on dress, jewelry, and the theater). In fact any person reading this who was raised in the 1950’s in almost any denomination will remember some of these lifestyle expectations. And you may also remember that as a child you simply lumped all these things together into one big bundle with church doctrine and everything else and you held them all with equal value as I did.
Then I discovered some things are written in pencil.
My first hint of this came in the sixth grade. I had won a mural contest and gotten a pile of tickets for Kennywood Park. This was before all-day-one-price entry fees so a pile of tickets meant I could ride all day at our school’s annual Spring outing. I gave the tickets back. I knew Christians didn’t attend a carn-evil or cir-cuss or amusement parks (which were “just a carnival in a permanent location”). I quietly told my teacher after class, “Christians don’t go to amusement parks” and he reluctantly took the tickets back. (I discovered 30 years later that mister Krome, a Presbyterian, had called my parents that evening to ask, ‘What sort of strange religion is this?”) Not going to Grandview schools’ annual outing wasn’t all that bad—I got the day off to play at home. Yet on that morning in May, 1957 my father woke me early to announce “we’re taking a trip.” And we did—driving almost 100 miles to….(you guessed it) an amusement park (at first I thought my dad had backslidden). He announced I could ride all day and he’d foot the bill. Late that afternoon he took me to an old stump that was designed as a sort of bench and we sat together—just the two of us. He said something pretty much exactly like the following (a son can’t forget his father’s words like this):
“Keith, I brought you here to teach you a lesson. There are two fences in life: God’s fence and the church’s fence. The church’s fence is always smaller than God’s fence. God doesn’t care if you go to amusement parks or not, but a lot of church folk do and they think it is wrong. That’s why we drove this far—so we won’t be seen by the people in the church who would spiritually stumble by it. But there are a lot of Christians who do go to amusement parks, and there are even Christians in other countries who drink a bit. As you grow older you might push against the church’s fence. You might even break down the fence other Christians put around you—even the fence your mother and I have built. But be careful as you do this that you do not run so fast and far from being fenced in that you smash through God’s fence—for His fence is at the very edge of a precipice. And that’s why I brought you here today—to teach you this important lesson-remember it as you grow as a teenager.”
This is how I learned that some things are written in pencil. Going to an amusement park wasn’t as important as the virgin birth in the bag of beliefs. It was a pencil-belief (actually a pencil-practice). It was one generation’s attempt to resist worldliness and they wrote it down. But they wrote it with pencil and I had an eraser. Indeed every generation has its own eraser and can erase their parent’s pencil work. Did I abandon the faith when I went to an amusement park or started going bowling? No. I simply erased some of the previous generations’ pencil work. I learned that all the stuff I had in one belief bag really had a second category—some things are written in pencil and can be erased without damaging my soul.
In college I discovered some things are written in ink.
By my college days I was erasing lots of stuff. I attended several movies (they would be “G” movies if they had ratings back then) and I went bowling with reckless abandon. While I never danced, I do admit that I went on a lot of hayrides that essentially accomplished the same purpose. I wore shorts in the summer and even went once to a beach during college where the girls wore “yellow polka-dot bikinis.” I tried a pipe and took communion in a Lutheran church where I got a taste of alcohol. In fact, one other time, when I attended a bar mitzvah I swiped a whole bottle of wine and drank it all one evening to see what would happen. (Nothing much). Yet other than this experimentation I kept a lot of my parent’s pencil work in college.
It was a college where I found that some things are written in ink. In high school I had worked with lifestyle matters that were mostly pencil written. In college I encountered doctrinal things that were written in ink. In a student Bible study I became convinced that my denomination was completely wrong on doctrine. My denomination was Arminian-Wesleyan and after a freshman year of Bible study I concluded they were completely wrong. I became a Calvinist. I discovered that doctrinal matters aren’t written in pencil—they use ink for doctrine. I was disheartened that my professors and my denomination refused to capitulate to my faultless logic. The Bible was so clear and my denomination so deluded and I tried to set them straight. I once gave my whole spring break over to trying to convert my mother to Calvinism, but she stubbornly refused to fall before the scythe of my superior intellect. I could not imagine how any honest reader of Scripture would refuse to believe in eternal security. I could accept that there were folk with such small minds they could not fathom the notion of predestination, but eternal security—well any honest person must accept this obvious teaching of Scripture!
I became a Calvinist evangelist. Actually there was a Calvinist trinity at my college: Moses Yang, my upper class mentor, Ray Berrian and I together dazzled the dimwitted Arminians with our brilliance and slew them by the thousands. Well at least we slew a dozen. By the end of that year we had about twelve Calvinist converts who met secretly as if we were in the catacombs (All this eventually brought to me the distinction of being the only student ever to be grounded to the campus for a full month due “questionable theology”—a badge I wore with great pride!) I had bumped into an ink-written doctrine. Inked doctrines are not as easily erased as behavioral pencil writing. Indeed ink writing cannot be erased at all but must be blotted out and we much write something else beside it. So, I used Calvin’s darker ink to blot out Arminian theology and I wrote down in large ink letters all five points of Calvin as my doctrine. I was a theological rebel in The Wesleyan Church and I intended to correct the denomination’s dimwitted doctrine. If I failed I would simply leave the denomination and join one with the right and true doctrine—a doctrine like mine.
At seminary I discovered some things are written in blood.
Then I went to Princeton Seminary. I met professors and students there that rattled the bones of my belief system all the way down to my toes. I went to Bible classes and heard that the Bible wasn’t a single unified book written in seamless continuity but had various points of view. I heard political, theological and biblical teachings that made “bobbed hair” and movies vanish from my mind. One precious doctrine and interpretation after another vanished when placed under the microscope of the original language or the original meaning of Scripture. Even my sturdy Calvinism was shaken so much that that the issues had changed from believing eternal security or not to believing in the resurrection or not. Was Jesus truly divine? Did he actually rise from the dead? Was he born of a virgin? Is there a coming judgment? Is there a heaven to gain? These are the questions that occupied my mind.
This is how I found the creeds. Really. I did not even know they existed until I was in seminary. I suppose I had heard of them but I had never heard them. They were never said in my church—they were “too high church.” I never even encountered them in college—we had revival meetings and testimonies in college. The first time I met the creeds was when several faithful professors at Princeton tossed them my way as a rope to a drowning student. I had erased most of the pencil work I was raised with. I had inked out much of my denomination’s doctrine. And now I was faced with reading people who didn’t even believe the core issues of the Christian faith. What could I believe? I took hold of the creeds—the Nicene but especially the Apostle’s creed—and hung on. Credo. I believe. The creed for me was not pencil work of earlier generations—their preferences, or lifestyle convictions. Neither were the creeds written in ink—merely the doctrinal positions of one particular denomination. The creeds were written in blood—they are life and death issues for the Christian church. I would not die for the doctrine of eternal security or entire sanctification. Hold a knife to my throat and demand I say, “I could backslide” or “I’m eternally secure” and you’ll get whatever answer you want to save my life. Hold that same knife to my throat and demand I say, “Christ was not divine” and I will refuse. At Princeton, under the mentorship of several godly professors I melted down to the core—to the Apostle’s creed. Everything else burned away like wood, hay and stubble. All I had left were 18 phrases.
Then I started rebuilding. I suppose this is why I am not alarmed when my graduates say they are melting down their belief bag. It was a good thing for me… eventually. After settling on the core faith found in the creeds I quit asking, “What do I doubt?” and started asking, “What do I believe?” I asked, “What else do I believe beside the Apostle’s Creed?” And I found that I did believe more than the core. As I examined doctrines one by one I began to adopt many again—this time not as “inherited doctrines” but as my own. I’ve written quite a bit in ink since then—doctrines I hold dear and would even write books about. In fact, in the rebuilding I actually became Wesleyan again and abandoned my Calvinism (though I have never abandoned the flavor of it). And I’ve even done some pencil work—I still do not cut my grass on Sunday though I can’t logically argue that you shouldn’t.
In fact you could accuse me of having big belief bag again and you’d be right. However my bag now has three compartments. I know the difference between what is written in pencil, written in ink and written in blood. You can be a Christian in my book if we disagree on the pencil and ink stuff. But neither you nor I can say we are Christians if we reject those things written in blood. Examine the blood-writ truths if you must, I did. But do so very carefully for you are dealing with the essence of what makes a Christian a Christian. And remember that picture of the knife at your throat. For some Christians today that is not an imaginary exercise.
Keith Drury April 26, 2005
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 The pencil-ink-blood motif is borrowed from my son David Drury who borrowed it from someone who borrowed it from someone else and we can no longer trace it to its source. At the time I understood these things as a set of “fences” with the outer one being “God’s fence.” IN some ways Is till prefer that model but the pencil-ink-blood motif offers the notion of “erasing” and that seems to fit better with the “collective convictions” or lifestyle applications a church or family has.