“And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.” —Luke 23:42-43
By John W. Fountain
I stand in the midst of a world pandemic, on the timeline of Christianity. I stand more than 2,000 years after the Day of Pentecost, 17 centuries after Roman Emperor Constantine the Great placed his lasting thumbprint on Christianity, and many years after the Great Awakenings.
I stand indeed in the afterglow of the Azusa Street Revival and the birth of modern Pentecostalism.
I stand between A.D. (anno domino) and A.C. (after coronavirus)—my faith still intact.
I stand. Between the cries of ancestral slaves, between my great-great grandfather’s pastoral prayers in Pulaski, Illinois, where he, Burton Roy, migrated after the Civil War—released from the bonds of slavery he inherited from birth.
I stand in this state of suspended animation that now exists between the birth of Pentecostalism and the Mega-church and prosperity doctrine, where COVID-19 has forced church services to the Internet and, for some, reduced the administering of Holy Communion recently to pre-Easter drive-thrus and a chance to touch a big cross.
I stand still convinced that church buildings and crosses are mere symbols to the believer—not necessarily requisite to salvation. Still convinced that if I never enter a church again, never participate in its designated sacred ordinances, or even don my Sunday’s best for another glorious Easter or Sunday service, my salvation remains sealed with blessed assurance by a savior who has simplified redemption’s plan: confess, repent, believe, follow.
No gimmicks. No intermediaries required to connect to the risen Christ. Only Jesus.
It was a hard lesson for me—a church boy, born and bred in the ways of the institution.
Indeed the church, where I have gathered more times than I can count since I was a child, had a critical hand in the faith that helped pull me through poverty and hardship.
If I close my eyes, I can still see me, standing in our West Side sanctuary as a teenage junior deacon or plucking my lead guitar.
Or I stand as a young adult as a full-fledged deacon, or preaching from the pulpit as a Gospel minister, Grandmother shouting, Amens and the saints egging me on to “preach the Word.”
Indeed I see a different man than I am today: Younger, fervent, more idealistic at my grandparents’ True Vine Church of God In Christ with its neon-lit marquee with the red letters, “Jesus Saves” in a white globe, lighting the way.
Nowadays I stand mostly alone—at least apart from the church I once knew—even as another Resurrection Sunday dawns. I arrived at this state unintentionally.
By the time I stopped regularly attending church in 2005, I was sick of church, literally. Toward the end, I caught a migraine every Sunday. I felt like I was dying there, hemorrhaging in the pew. Service no longer fed me, only slowly sucked the life away from me with religious dogma, with irrelevant or inept sermons and the recital of canned “church-isms,” or prosperity doctrine that rang hollow.
For a long time, like so many others, I felt like there was no place for me. Soul searching, Bible truths and God’s love brought me back to a place that is not dependent on my grandparent’s faith but my own.
That place: At the cross of Jesus, where even a thief once found salvation with his dying words.
Truth is: Church attendance works for many believers. My point is that services will eventually resume and churches once again will overflow after the pandemic passes. But it’s especially good to know as believers nowadays and always where our faith truly stands.
Not in the church but on the Christ.
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John W. Fountain is an award-winning columnist, journalist, professor, publisher and author of True Vine: A Young Black Man’s Journey of Faith, Hope and Clarity; and Dear Dad: Reflections on Fatherhood. Fountain is a tenured full professor of journalism at Roosevelt University. He is a native of Chicago and formerly a national correspondent for the New York Times.