The women in this congregation remain silent while the men talk, as they believe the Bible instructs. As far as I can tell, this strain of biblical literalism began over 500 years ago before Luther came on the scene. Some who read the Bible back then noticed a key discrepancy between the church’s practice of baptism and how it was described in the book itself. The church sprinkled babies with water but in scripture Jesus is fully submerged as a grown man.
The people who called the church out on this inconsistency gained the name “Anabaptists” meaning “to baptize again.” They argued that the Bible version of baptism, what some called “believer’s baptism,” was far more meaningful because an older person had the wherewithal to understand and choose Christianity. A powerful argument, I must say, and church leaders felt threatened enough to have many of these outspoken literalists burned at the stake. Luther did not support their criticism of infant baptism, but I wouldn’t be surprised if their instinct to turn directly to scripture influenced him.
One of the men has gained the floor and is providing a lengthy outline of his recent battle with congestion. I find myself looking around the room, a silent scream echoing between my ears. “Who are you people?!” I want to shout. Then, all at once, I realize exactly who these people are: my beloved grandma and grandpa. My mom’s parents, with whom my mom and I lived when we first moved to Dallas, held these beliefs. I had always remembered Chapel in the Woods, my grandparent’s church, as being Baptist. Recently, my mom corrected me: it was non-denominational.
“Non-denominational?” I repeated when she told me that.
I would normally associate that word with a very liberal theology or a looser interpretation of scripture—the opposite of what I’m seeing here and what I remember from my grandparents. Turns out this type of church isn’t inclusive of all denominations; they flat out reject denominations. They might bear the name “church of Christ” or “Christian church” or “Bible church.” They might call themselves “disciples of Christ.” These descriptors are intended to imply the absence of theology; they are not proper nouns but simple adjectives to describe followers of Christ from 2,000 years ago. You might think of them as Christian “ice-people,” perfectly preserved in a glacier that thawed yesterday. Each and every one of these churches is an independent body; like the “congregational” churches most of the first colonists established, they don’t belong to the overarching structures that tie together churches of a particular denomination.
The man who leads us in singing has all the vocal subtlety of Herman Munster. Why he would be selected for this particular job is beyond me. There’s no musical accompaniment to temper the ear assault because apparently instruments in worship service are not biblical, so the parishioners have no choice but to lend their voices in an effort to drown out his. We sing “Jesus, I Come”, a hymn based on Psalm 130:1 that reads, “Out of the depths I cry to Thee, O Lord” and then we sing “Master, the Tempest is Raging” based on a story in Mark. During the refrain, I feel a pang of nostalgia for my grandparents, whom I looked upon with tender bewilderment. They beamed unconditional love at me but always seemed just out of reach. I don’t know if it’s because of them or because there are so few people and no instruments, but today I feel a greater sense of responsibility for my vocal contribution.
I sing with more conviction than I have so far. The rest of me may be guarded, but my voice is all in.