Saturday, April 02, 2011


Retriever has a post about her ambivalence listening to testimony at a churchwomens event she dragged herself to out of duty.

"Testimony Sunday" is a catchphrase in our family, based on an experience we had while church-shopping when Jonathan was almost 8 and Ben almost 4. We visited an independent Baptist congregation that friends attended, and happened to come on Testimony Sunday, a three-hour marathon. Interesting how various people see this variously. My wife liked it at first, though began to weary of it as we crossed the 100-minute mark. The friends we were honoring with the visit to their church were mortified: Sue Byrd swore she could see the steam escaping from my ears. Benjamin was initially fine - the Sunday School teachers had released the children, with some annoyance at having been left holding the bag, thank you very much, after 90 minutes, and while most of them were antsy, Ben had found a pile of books and was lying comfortably in the aisle, oblivious to those stepping over him. But at 3.9 years, he wasn't reading at a high level, and exhausted everything in his range and several outside it, in the next hour. At two-and-a-half hours, women were coming up to the microphone for second helpings of testimony giving, and I was growing homicidal.

Jonathan thought this was the coolest church service ever. Having only been to Lutheran services to that point, the idea of church where people would get up and cry and talk about their alcoholic parents and being beaten, going to school in awful clothes, having only bread and milk for food for a week - or alternatively, having husbands that went off for "affairs," - we had covered in our Ten Commandments teaching that "adultery" was stealing someone else's husband or wife, and I think he dimly grasped that something like this was up - and the police coming to your house or being teased at school... well my goodness, this is the most interesting church we have ever been in, Dad. Can we come back next week?

He didn't know from Baptists yet, that next week was going to be lots of scripture memorization and a few choruses of singing "Trust and Obey." Anyway, at Retriever's event
The speaker continued describing how at 15 she had become suicidal and been sent away to some teen center. And then I tuned partially out. Wondering "What are you leaving out?"
Yeah, exactly. Your terrible, neglectful Mom that you are kicking up and down the narthex in this testimony - what's her side of this?

It's not accidental that testimonies grew up as a major part of the church culture on the frontier and in the black church, where people were mobile and there wasn't going to be a lot of fact-checking. Christians of my age may remember what happened to Mike Warnke, who had the misfortune to straddle the old fundamentalist culture where people took you at face value and expected the same, versus the new evangelicalism where earnest young college students delighted in doing research about Christian topics.


Retriever said...

Laughed out loud at the description of Jonathan asking to go back to the most interesting church ever! It's like when they discover that the Bible contains the only sex and violence Mom and Dad are going to let them read about for a while, and they become suddenly devout and always have their noses in the Good Book. But when you ask them what they were reading, they are vague, and blush...

Sponge-headed ScienceMan said...

Over the years it seemed whenever we picked a Sunday to visit a new church, oh no, it's testimony Sunday! Dear Lord, your sense of humor is too much. It didn’t help that we typically knew just a few people at that church, none of whom stood up to give their testimonies. No, because these presenters were complete strangers to us, I always struggled to identify with them and be charitable when they hemmed and hawed and repeated themselves countless times. I admit to having a short dose of patience when listening to long-winded folks. I guess the Yankee in me is always silently thinking, “Get on with it, I don’t really need the How The West Was Won Cinerama version – the short subject version will do just fine – please!

But my petty annoyances’ aside, truth be told, what makes we squirm at a lot of well-meaning testimonies given by truly nice people, is the extreme range of Christian doctrine that I often hear at these events. I don’t pretend to have my own act together and be settled in “sound” Christian doctrine (heck, I get less certain and more wishy-washy with each passing year), but come on people, I’m hearing shades of Zen Buddhism mixed with Quakerism and a pinch of Health & Wealth in your life’s testimony. As Car Talk radio hosts Click and Clack will say, “Geeze, doesn’t anyone screen these calls?” I often leave such services more discouraged than uplifted.

Anonymous said...

Reminds me of the first time I attended church with my in-laws. I was raised Catholic, but had "lapsed" in my attendance on Sundays. They were "Free-Will" Baptists, which was quite a shock to my ritual-oriented expectations!

Anonymous said...

"I often leave such services more discouraged than uplifted."

Visit an Eastern Orthodox church. (I used to be an atheist.)

Anonymous said...

Yeah, the testimony thing runs rampant in denoms that don't use a rite of confession and absolution. I understand some need to verbally confess to another human being, but it is like these folks are stuck and need to hear the pastor say, "I forgive you." These, uh, extroverted folks could perhaps do themselves and the rest of the congregation a bit of good by going to confession.

Anonymous said...

"I don’t pretend to have my own act together and be settled in “sound” Christian doctrine (heck, I get less certain and more wishy-washy with each passing year), but come on people, I’m hearing shades of Zen Buddhism mixed with Quakerism and a pinch of Health & Wealth in your life’s testimony."

Maybe try a confessional LCMS church. For one thing the pastors have a four year theological seminary education in addition to their undergraduate degree and can distinguish between the Law and the Gospel. Plenty of churches have barely trained pastors.

LCMS is a lot like Orthodox except the service is only about an hour and you don't have stand.

Pop American Christianity is kind of geared for the average dude. If are more of a thinker, it gets on your nerves. Church shopping is miserable.

Shop for doctrine first.

Fun (but serious) doctrine podcast.

Current events and doctrine podcast.