Westville Baptist Church, Nothing Like Westboro Baptist Church

I’m not really sure what a “baptist” is. I assume it has something to do with being baptized, though I know non-baptist churches still perform baptisms, so clearly I’m missing something here. Despite this, I decided to visit the Westville Baptist Church this week, hoping for a better experience than the Victory in Christ Christian Center I visited last week.

Westville Baptist 2

The Westville Baptist Church is a small, quaint place. It immediately gave me a more community feel. When I entered there was music playing, but unlike the last church, this music didn’t make me feel like I was in a club. It was simple, easy-listening music about Jesus and love and so on and so forth. There was a small computer displaying the lyrics on a projector screen, but it wasn’t as flashy and overdone the way the big-screen TVs and colored lights at the VICCC were.

Only about 19 people showed up, counting me and the pastor. Most of them were over 60, and they talked to each other like they’d been coming here together for decades. Half a dozen different people said “Good morning” to me and shook my hand. It certainly made me feel welcome.

The pastor stepped up wearing knee-length denim shorts and a flannel shirt. It was far more casual than what I was used to. The pastor at the VICCC was wearing a suit, and the priests at the churches I visited as a kid always wore religious-type robes. Though I’m all about a casual church. I’ve never understood the point in going to church in your “Sunday best.” Wasn’t God all about immodesty and running around the garden naked until we sinful humans gained knowledge about our bodies and learned shame? Casual Sundays seem like the right way to “keep the Sabbath day holy.”

The VICCC opened with a series of sales pitches and video advertisements, along with reminders to hit the gift shop after the sermon. Westville Baptist, on the other hand, opened with prayers for people in need.

Prayers 2

I much preferred the talk about people in need over the sales pitches I got from the other church. This church also didn’t try to con people out of 10% of their income for tithes. When it came time to pass the collection plates at the VICCC, we were subjected to a long lecture about what percentage of our income should go to the church, what should go to our savings, what should be spent on luxuries, etc. This church was silent about all these subjects and passed the plates without a word. The only time they mentioned anything about donations was to bring up a recent accident where someone ran their car into the church, since the repairs had to be funded by donations. This seemed like a pretty reasonable thing to ask for help with.

The sermon here was different as well. At the VICCC, the pastor only spoke for thirty minutes before giving the floor back to more sales pitches. Here, the bulk of the time was focused on the sermon itself, and nothing was rushed.

I got pretty confused during the sermon itself. There was a lot of stuff about a guy named Hezekiah, who apparently was a really cool dude at first and loved God so much that when he was dying, God answered his prayers and gave him an extra fifteen years to live. But then he got all rich and powerful and turned his back on God and that was bad. I’m not entirely sure what the message was, other than “Greed is bad” and “Don’t forget to watch what you get into.” Which seems like a good message and all, though I think some of it was lost on me.

I’m also pretty sure I’m going to hell, since when the pastor was making a metaphor about gardening and pulling out the weeds of your soul, he said, “I really don’t mind getting down on my knees to take care of stuff,” and my first thought was “That’s what she said.” He also later said, “I remind you that you are not junk.” All I could think of was how Tyler Durden said the exact opposite.

Tyler Durden

In the end, I’m not sure what I got out of the experience. There was a lot of stuff in the sermon about how we’re supposed to accept that we are living our lives wrong and that we need to embrace Jesus and follow the path that God laid out for us. And I don’t agree with any of that, because I believe in free will. I can’t accept the idea that I’m supposed to live my life according to someone else’s plan.

There was also some stuff that just made no logical sense whatsoever. Like a passage the pastor read from Mark 7, about how the Jewish priests were all like, “Dude, why aren’t you guys washing your hands before you eat! You’re gonna get sick!” And Jesus was like, “Evil isn’t what comes into the body because it gets absorbed through the stomach, evil is what comes out from our souls through our actions.” And while philosophically the idea of paying attention to your actions makes sense, Jesus still told people they don’t need to wash their hands before eating. My understanding of a lot of the old testament rules were that a lot of them were just good hygiene and common sense. I can agree with the idea that we don’t need to think of hand washing as a religious thing or that skipping it is going to bring “evil” into our bodies, but it will bring bacteria into our bodies. Maybe bacteria are the devil.

They're coming to take your soul and give you the flu.
They’re coming to take your soul and give you the flu.

At the end of the sermon, almost everyone in the church shook my hand and thanked me for coming. I was wearing one of my Rowan University shirts, so I got into a nice conversation with the pastor about education, engineering, and my studies in the master’s program. They invited me to come back again, and everyone was quite friendly and welcoming. Which are feelings I didn’t have at the last church I visited.

Whether I’ll go again is uncertain, but at the very least I feel like this was a more calm and communal than the VICCC. This place, at least, felt like a church, not like a sales seminar.


15 thoughts on “Westville Baptist Church, Nothing Like Westboro Baptist Church”

  1. Nice piece, Jason. For the record, what sets Baptists apart from other Protestant denominations is that Baptists practice what they call “believers’ baptism,” which rules out baptizing babies and the very, very young, as they are not considered mature enough to understand the consequences of their sin and their need for a savior. The denominations which baptize babies see that sacrament as a seal of the covenant between a family of believers and God. As such, they view baptism as something more akin to the circumcision of Jewish males in the Old Testament — though they probably wouldn’t care for my “over-simplification.”

    1. That makes sense. I certainly don’t approve of indoctrinating children into a religion that they don’t understand or accept. I was raised Catholic and never given a choice about things like going to my first communion. I didn’t even understand what I was doing when I did it, nor do I now. Which kinda makes the ritual seem to lose meaning.

      1. In Junior High I didn’t even understand what was happening during my Roman Catholic Confirmation ceremony. It was supposed to be the participant’s personal affirmation of the baptismal vows said in infancy by the parents. In actual fact, it was merely an empty ritual with no meaning whatsoever. 12 1/2 years ago, while in New Zealand, I did have a meaningful “Reaffirmation of Baptismal Vows” with an excellent Anglican church my husband I were attending at the time. Got fully dunked in the ocean and everything. πŸ˜‰

      2. It has to hold a lot more meaning when it’s something you decide and commit to on your own. Otherwise it’s just your parents pushing their beliefs on you.

    1. Well I’m no expert, but I think the idea is that being in church doesn’t automatically give you a free pass to Heaven or salvation or whatever. Ideally, I think the pastor should be offering advice and insight into how to do better and be less evil and stuff like that. Though I’m not sure I entirely understood the advice.

      1. Interesting piece, especially the contrast with your previous experience.

        Not sure if you already knew this, but it sounds like you don’t, so I apologize if this seems like too basic: Christianity is broken into denominations (I.e. Baptist, Lutheran, etc.). They all pretty much believe in God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, and that you have to believe in Jesus’ crucification and resurrection to go to heaven. But then on finer points of philosophy and rituals, they disagree.

        When it comes to “being saved,” each denomination is slightly different as well. But in general, you have to pledge in your heart that you believe in and are following Jesus. A supernatural exchange therefore takes place where you no longer must be punished for the sins you commit: Jesus becomes your stand-in, and he died a horrible death for all the things you did wrong. That doesn’t give you a free pass, though. You still have to try to live sin-free. But when you mess up, God doesn’t punish you. Then different rituals (like baptism) affirm this “covenant” with God.

        That’s what Christians believe, anyway. I do not. πŸ™‚

      2. I understand the basic concept of there being various Christian denominations, but I’ve never studied the specific differences between them. I’m familiar with Catholicism since I was raised that way (to an extent). And I’m somewhat familiar with Protestantism just from history classes talking about how Protestants came here to get away from religious restrictions in England (that being a big reason for our rules about separation of church and state). Though I don’t know WHAT Protestants specifically wanted to do differently. Just that they wanted to be different.

        I’m not sure how much of any of it I can agree with or get on board with. But I’m exploring it to educate myself. I don’t believe in either accepting or rejecting anything that one doesn’t understand.

  2. I liked your post a lot, and the other one with the Mega $$$$ Church. I was raised Presbyterian, very, very traditionalist. We had an organ AND a piano for music. I remember one Sunday, some guy in his 20s who was the son of one of the members, brought an acoustic guitar to accompany the organ and piano, and youd’ve thought the devil himself appeared in a poof of smoke to play the best of Slipknot, by the reactions of the congregation.

    Another CSB, I went to one of these “mega churches” to see what it was like and I figured, hey, I’m going to church, I’ll wear a suit. I was the only one of about a thousand people who weren’t in jeans or shorts. The other people, while polite, kept looking at me like I was a plant from Planned Parenthood or Atheists for America or something like that.

    1. That makes me wonder if someone wearing shorts to a church where everyone else is in suits would get a similar reaction. Like those stares that say “You don’t belong here, you’re not dressed for black tie worship.”

  3. I’m not quite sure what you think the Old Testiment laws about not mixing fibers or being required to marry your brother’s widow had to do with hygiene, but it was a nice article anyway.

  4. Sergius got the history of the Baptists right, which is almost a shame, since I was Baptist until very recently, and I still feel quite fondly to them. The only thing I’d add is that they were really formed during the Puritan movements in England, and the term “Baptist” was actually a pejorative given to them, since they insisted on the particular “believer’s baptism” rather than the two-step baptism/confirmation of the Anglican church of the time. And like any good minority, they took the pejorative and ran with it. πŸ™‚

    As for the statement Jesus made… there’s a little extra context there that might be important to know. When the Pharisees complained that the disciples weren’t washing their hands, they weren’t referring to it in the way that you and I were- washing germs or what-not. Instead, they were referring to a particular Rabbinic tradition that had been added to the Old Testament, which basically said that if you don’t wash your hands IN A CERTAIN WAY, in a RITUALISTIC way, then you were unclean SPIRITUALLY. Indeed, the Babylonic Talmud compared not washing your hands to unchastity, and would prompt divine punishment for so flagrant a violation.

    Which Jesus, rightly, pointed out is nonsense. That’s why, in his response, he states that it’s what comes out of the man’s mouth, through what he feels in his heart, that makes a man unclean, not what goes in through unwashed hands or what-not. Jesus did follow hygiene (foot washing and all of that,) but the Pharisees tried to make hand-washing a nigh-salvation issue, to the point that hungry people should have to go all the way home and do the ritual before they could eat, and that’s… well, not right. So that’s why Jesus gave the answer He did- not necessarily saying that hand washing, in absolute terms, is something that shouldn’t be done, but rather that the moralistic hand washing rituals of the Pharisees was to be opposed, just like all their other moralistic nonsense.

    But yeah, I’m glad that everyone there was so incredibly friendly to you, even if the sermon was… eh, not quite as impactful as I would have wished. Are you going to be trying another one? If so, I’ll look forward to hearing how that goes, as well. I’m searching for a new church myself, so here’s hoping we both find one, mm?

    1. I’ll see what happens. It’s been suggested that I try a Presbyterian church, so I want to give that a try. But I might come back to this one as well simply because the people were so kind and welcoming.

      1. I’ve never been to a Presbyterian church myself- hoping to change that sooner rather than later- so I can’t recommend it, but sounds like a plan to me. I hope you have a good experience there.

        (Nothing wrong with going back to that one, either. πŸ™‚ )

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