I am beginning a short series of postings about a few of the more memorable church services I have witnessed. Nowadays, I do not often darken church doors. In religious matters, I now have more in common with H. L. Mencken than I do with C. S. Lewis. But there was a day, years ago, when I seldom missed a church service. Sometimes I kept notes for my private record, knowing that one day I would look back and enjoy the memories even if I no longer share the spirit. What follows is one of those memories…
11 February 1995 Saturday
This evening in Houston, I drove over to Missionary Outreach Baptist Church for a “musical”, which in this case means a gathering of gospel choirs. A co-worker invited me.
I arrived late, and heard only a couple of choirs: St. Agnes Baptist Church and Immanuel Church of God in Christ. Immanuel’s choir did a gospel version of the Messiah Hallelujah Chorus. The original is still better.
The lady emceeing the program gave her testimony. She started out in a conversational tone, then got into a sing-song delivery, punctuated by bursts of organ chords, and shouts of “huh!” and “Glory!” In this sing-song way, she told about moving from New Jersey…
My husband got a job here…he got a job here…he got a job… selling insurance…selling insurance… Within two months now…within two months now… he was at the top now…at the top now… the top salesman now! Glory! And we got a car now… got a car now… Glory! We went to the dealer… went to the dealer… went to the dealer and said the Lord has need of this! Hallelujah! We drove away now… drove away now… drove away in a new car with no down payment! Thank you Jesus! And I was working too hard…huh!…working too hard… huh!…was a school counselor… my health was hurting… huh!…the doctor told me… the doctor told me… the doctor told me that I needed to cut back… huh!… I went to my boss now… went to my boss now… and they let me cut back my time… and still get FULL PAY! GLORY!!
The lady introduced a young singer/evangelist, mid-30s, I think. I don’t remember his name. He sang “I’d Rather Have Jesus” and “I have Decided to Follow Jesus”. He started out acapella, then built to a crescendo with the piano, speaking in tongues between phrases. He gave his testimony. He told how his mother had been a preacher, but she backslid and became a drug dealer. His daddy was the town drunk and a wife-beater, and on Sundays daddy would stub out his cigarette on the church steps, go in and be a deacon. This young singer said this about his parents, “When they weren’t drugged and drunk, they were Muhammed Ali and Joe Frazier.” When they fought, he and his sisters each had a job to do. One would pull daddy away from mother. Another would hold him down. Another would call grandma and the police. Grandma first because she was saved and she got there faster than the police. It was this young man’s job, at age 14, to stand between mother and daddy while they fought, and yell “The blood of Jesus! The blood of Jesus!“
He told about getting saved, getting leukemia, getting healed, preaching, backsliding, and repenting. Eventually, his mother got off drugs, and is preaching again. His daddy quit drinking, got the Holy Ghost, and now the only trouble he causes is when he got kicked out of his church for telling them they were all doing wrong. So says this young singer/evangelist.
He preached a no nonsense, walk-the-straight-and-narrow-or-go-to-hell message. He told the congregation how it is that you can sing and dance like crazy in church, speak in tongues or at least fake it, and do all the other stuff people do in church, and still be headed to hell if you don’t truly repent.
It was a powerful message. This is the sort of thing that you have to see in person to understand how powerful it can be. Watching it on TV won’t do at all. You have to be there to see how the brothers and sisters in the congregation respond, and you have to listen as the crescendo builds. Even when my intellect was doubting the truthfulness of his testimony, I couldn’t help wanting it all to be true!
And when he told the people to come on down to the front, half the congregation went forward. The evangelist laid hands on several. With each healing the person fainted. At one point I saw three bodies on the floor, with the evangelist stepping around them. The healing was still going strong when I left, close to midnight.