Our Childhood Churches
This chapter is the result of finding some old 35MM slides my dad had taken. From my birth until I was probably about nine years old (1951-1960) my parents attended and took us to an old, evangelical church in Naperville Illinois. I use the terms “evangelical” and “church” loosely when I refer to this church. Evangelical means teaching that is “according to the gospel or the Christian religion.” I can assure you that the church at one time had been evangelical, but in the 1950’s was something much different. It looked Christian but it wasn’t. Sadly, I don’t think I ever heard the gospel during my early childhood years. I heard Bible stories and sang songs, but I didn’t know God and didn’t see that I had any need to know him.
I was in church because my parents took me there. It wasn’t a terrible experience, but it certainly wasn’t focused on the gospel. It was a beautiful building, with fine rituals, nice choir, and a well-educated minister in a fancy robe. But it was, at best, basically a Sunday social gathering for good “religious” people. I was, as were most children in that church, baptized as an infant. I certainly don’t remember that.
1960 to 1964
One day everything changed. We stopped attending our home church and suddenly started worshipping at a much smaller Naperville church meeting in an elementary school building. I know this change was probably in 1960, because I have a King James Bible that my Sunday School teacher, Mr. Keith Martin, gave me. He wrote the date and his name in the inside cover. I also have a note in that Bible that makes me know that I had finally heard, understood, and had responded to the gospel that year. Four years later (1964) I was baptized because that is what my Savior wanted me to do. I wanted to obey.
Sunday School Rewards
By 1966 the Winquist family had been faithful at Bible Baptist Church in Naperville Illinois for six years. I think both of my parents taught Sunday School or attended the adult class when they weren’t teaching. The church encouraged Sunday School attendance. One way they did this was to give a little reward to wear to show everyone you were faithful. I was reminded of this when I saw a picture of myself and my brothers when I saw an attendance pin on each of us from the Bible Baptist Church. Because I am a pack rat, I still have both that pin and the little cross I was wearing on my suit jacket on the Sunday the pictures were taken.
What I Lacked
However, you should know that I was much like the members of the Galatian church. This is what Paul said to that church: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” Galatians 1:6-9 ESV
My understanding of the salvation God provides was incomplete, at best. I certainly believed I was saved by the finished work of Christ. John 3:16, Romans 3:16, Romans 6:23, and Ephesians 2:8-9 were scriptures I knew and believed. But I often did good works to merit salvation rather than relying wholly and completely on the finished work of Jesus Christ. My good works did not save me initially and they did not keep me saved. They were not able to keep me in God’s good graces. Jesus did all the work. I live by faith, not by works.
I am also reminded that some religious people, including me, do their good deeds to show off so that they can get praise and the admiration of others. Jesus was rather blunt when speaking about the religious people who thought this way. In Matthew 6 Jesus was continuing his sermon on the mount and said, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Matthew 6:1-4 ESV
I am to do good works. But the goal isn’t to get the praise or a reward from others who think I am special. Note that Jesus didn’t say “if you give to the needy.” He assumed his followers would give to them just as he was giving to them. He said, “when you give to the needy.” But the goal is not to get the credit or the glory, because that all belongs to God. The Savior did the work, and I am kept by his power, not my strength. So I desire to love God and that means I should love people.
The Sunday School Pin Sixty Years Later
I’m glad I saw the pins on our Sunday best. It reminded me of all that God has done to move us from dead religion to life. In 1960 the gospel changed the trajectory of our family. It is also informing the lives of our children and grandchildren. May it continue so until the Savior returns.
Your Faith Journey
If I can encourage you to do one thing, it would be to read the Gospel of John. John concludes his gospel by telling his readers that he wrote his gospel with a purpose in mind. “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” John 20:30-31 ESV. Believing brings life. Don’t miss that.