Sunday, June 29, 2014

Meet me at Calvary Baptist Church, part of the Southern Baptist Convention

Today I went to Calvary Baptist Church, a church here in Ogden which is part of the Southern Baptist Convention. The Southern Baptist Convention has nearly 16 million members nationwide making it the second largest church in the United States after the Roman Catholic Church, the largest Protestant church in the country, and the largest Baptist church in the world. Chances are, when Baptists come to your mind, you're thinking of the Southern Baptists. There are many other Baptist groups and independent Baptist organizations, but none with the numbers, outreach, or political clout of the Southern Baptist Convention. So who are the Southern Baptists? Where do they come from? What do they believe?

The origins of the Southern Baptist Convention actually stem from our country's more controversial past. It began when the Baptist churches from the Southern United States decided to split with those from the Northern United States as the North refused to ordain missionaries who were slave owners. The Southern Baptist Convention maintained a theology that promoted slavery and later racial segregation. This caused many black Baptists to split off and form their own groups, the largest of which today is the National Baptist Convention, USA.

Starting in the second half of the 20th century, the Southern Baptist Convention began moving away from its roots in race and segregation and began actively engaging minorities to bring them into the group. Today, the church has no official racial element to it, and the current president of the organization is a black man.

Beliefs of the Southern Baptist Convention:
  • The Southern Baptist Convention is a Protestant church that is Evangelical. This means that they believe that the Bible is the Word of God, the sole guide on matters of faith and doctrine, that members are to be born again in the Spirit by accepting Jesus as their Savior, and that they have a personal relationship with Jesus.
  • The Bible is the source of their creeds and their creeds can be altered based on what the Bible teaches.
  • Each person is accountable to God alone and nobody else is accountable for another person's salvation.
  • Priesthood of all believers. In other words, there is no middle man between God and humanity, each person can access God fully on their own.
  • Mankind is a fallen creature devoid of good. All people are guilty under God's Law and deserve God's wrath and punishment in eternal Hell.
  • Salvation from the wrath of God is by the grace of God through faith alone. Works cannot save.
  • Salvation is through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus's atonement paid for the sins of mankind.
  • Belief in the Trinity.
  • Belief that baptism is required as an act of obedience to God's Word, and a symbol of dying to your own life and rising new in Christ. Baptism must be done by full immersion only by those old enough to accept Jesus as their Savior.
  • Practice the Lord's Supper to remember the sacrifice of Jesus and draw closer to him. This act is simply a memorial and the bread and wine (grape juice) have no actual presence of Jesus within them but are symbolic of the grace he provides.
  • Autonomy of the local church. This means that each church in the Southern Baptist Convention is self governing and does not have to answer to a hierarchy. The convention exists to unify congregations with other similar congregations.
  • The Southern Baptist Convention leans towards conservative politics and traditional gender roles. Homosexuality, abortion, sex before marriage, polyamory, pornography, and extra-marital affairs are condemned. Women are not ordained, though it is said they belong to the priesthood of all believers.
So, what was Calvary Baptist Church like?


Calvary Baptist Church is tucked away in an unassuming part of downtown Ogden. It's a red brick building that's fairly traditional with some modern aspects, particularly the steeple and the relief sculpture over the entrance of the church.

The interior of the church was interesting to me because it was almost exactly how I envisioned it to be. I've never gone into a new church and had it match my preconceived image of what it would look like until today. That's always been part of the fun of this journey is seeing how reality compares with what's in my head.

The interior was a white bricked room with wooden pews and a slight partition that separated the main part of the chapel from the entry way. The walls had no windows except for a couple of smaller windows way up at the top of the building behind the sanctuary, which were covered by closed, vertical blinds.

The central focus of the room was the pulpit which ha a small table in front of it that had a simple wooden cross, a Bible opened in front of it, and two collection plates. Along the front of the table was a table runner that said, "Jesus lives forever."

Overall, the atmosphere was, as I stated, exactly what I expected: simple, centered on a pulpit with the Bible out on display, and unassuming.

The People:

The people were very nice. They all went out of their way to greet us and ask us questions. Most of them were elderly and white (a typical trend of most of the churches around here) though there were a couple younger families of different ethnicities. The congregation wasn't very large, only a couple dozen people at the very most including us. It's Summer, so the size of the congregation is bound to be smaller, but I don't get the impression this congregation is very big at all.

Overall, they seemed like nice people who had conviction in what they believed.

The Service:

The service was typical of churches with an Evangelical bend. It opened with a prelude of music played on a piano, followed by a prayer offered by a member of the congregation, then they welcomed everybody, including us as visitors. After that, a woman was asked to extend a greeting to everybody, she talked for a minute about how it's been 100 years since World War I began, which was very random and was not related to anything religious or spiritual any way. Just sort of some random trivia about World War I given just for fun.

Afterward, another hymn was sung accompanied by piano music. I have to say, the music was really simplistic and traditional and I wasn't familiar with any of them sung.

After the hymn, they said another prayer and took up a collection. Everybody then stood up and recited a scripture together from the Gospel of Luke. The pastor then went to the pulpit and began his sermon.

After the sermon, another hymn was sung, then a prayer offered, and the congregation recited Proverbs 3:5 in unison, "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding."

The service was very dry and focused on the sermon, as I've come to expect with most Evangelical churches. I do have to say that I liked that this church didn't rely on any kind of gimmick to attract members, but instead seemed more focused on its roots and what it taught. Compared to some other denominations of the same type, it is nice to see.

The Message:

The Gospel reading was from Like where Jesus asks Peter to tell him who people say he is. Peter replies that some say he is John the Baptist, Elijah, or another prophet. He then asks Peter who he thinks he is. Peter replies that he thinks Jesus is the Christ.

The sermon was really repetitive, with the pastor covering several points over and over again. I'm going to try to condense his message into a more reader friendly message than is in my notes.

Essentially, he said that people have different opinions about Jesus and these opinions can't all be right, we must only believe what God says about Jesus. The most important thing in life is to know the truth about Jesus. This is our assignment on this Earth. What God says about Jesus is all that matters, God gave us his Word (the scriptures), and his Word says that the scriptures are reliable. Therefore, we must believe what the Bible says about Jesus, and not other people's opinions about Jesus. We need to come to him and get saved.

There wasn't much more to the sermon than that, just the same points made again and again, sometimes with a little more detail added to them.

Overall, the sermon wasn't anything I wasn't expecting. I've heard all of this before many times in different churches and other moments in my life.

Overall Experience:

This is the only church I've been to so far that was exactly how I envisioned it to be, as though they pulled it straight from my imagination. That was surreal. Honestly, I don't have much to say about this group that I haven't said about similar groups in my previous blogs.

Additional Notes:

I'm really enjoying this experience, and I've decided I want to take it to the next level. Over the next couple weeks, I'm going to look into next year's project, which will be on similar lines. My goal for next year is to travel to every state and record (in film or written form I haven't decided) various religious experiences in other states. I will probably be turning to crowdfunding for this project.

Let me know your opinions and suggestions on this idea.

Until next time, peace be with you.

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