It had been a pretty good week. I was in Jerusalem and of course we were having a festival again, the festival of Shavuot that some other Jews called Pentecost. We are always celebrating some festival or another! Anyway, I was in Jerusalem with some trade goods and business had been favorable that week. I was getting ready to head home to Phrygia. I missed home but didn't look forward to the long journey and as a Jew it was always special to be in Jerusalem. Right before I left, the weirdest thing happened!
I was walking along the street at around the third hour, minding my own business, when all of a sudden a bunch of men ran out in the street and started babbling. I mean it was crazy! At first I figured they had just gotten into the new wine a little early in the day but then I realized they were speaking all sorts of languages. At first I didn't recognize any of them but then one guy seemed to be speaking in the language of my home. How weird was that? A bunch of other people noticed the same thing so we kind of gathered around in a semi-circle. Someone had conveniently arranged a bunch of benches that faced the door of a house so we all sat down.
Then this kind of crazy looking guy started talking. He was dressed kind of funny, with some sort of black two piece toga that was sewn together between his legs with a white tunic underneath it and a drab colored strip of cloth tied around his neck. It looked really uncomfortable. He had a scroll in his hands and while he was talking he gestured to it a couple of times and even thumped it on a nearby bench for effect. I sort of got what he was talking about, he was talking about this Jesus guy that had been crucified by the Romans a month or so ago and some of his followers were claiming that he had risen from the dead. Sounded kind of fishy to me but this guy kept raising his voice, shouting occasionally, was sweating profusely and had his whole diatribe laid out with an introduction, three key points and a conclusion. By the end, I was pretty convinced. He said this Jesus guy was standing outside knocking on a door and softly and tenderly calling me (and everyone else there) to come home and that he wanted to be my Savior if I would only invite him to come into my heart. Then he really got serious….
“Make a decision to accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior today!” I will stand in front of the building while Matthias plays ‘Just As I Am’ on the lyre. Let’s pray. Every head bowed and every eye closed”
So this guy (someone said his name was Pastor Peter. I thought “Pastor” was a weird first name but whatever) started praying. And praying and praying and praying. I know I was supposed to have my eyes closed but I was peeking a little bit and saw a bunch of people walking forward. Pastor Peter said that I could have all my sins forgiven if I would repeat a prayer, raise my hand, come up front and sign a card. That was it? No pigeons/oxen/sheep and all that other messy stuff?!
I was all for that! While my head was still bowed and my eyes (sorta) closed, I raised my hand. I know I raised it high enough because this guy, Pastor Peter, shouted out “I see that hand!”. I walked to the front of the crowd and signed a card. I was in, time to get baptized! But then some guy next to this Pastor Peter fellow introduced himself as a “deacon”. He told me that I would have to be presented to the church and then once that was over with I would need to attend 12 weeks of “new member classes” to make sure I knew what was what. Once I completed those classes I could get baptized at the next scheduled baptism which was in about seven months. He smiled and handed me some papers including a "Doctrinal Statement" and a "Membership Covenant" on scraps of papyrus and a nice stylus inscribed with the words "First Baptist Church of Jerusalem".
I was kind of bummed (although the stylus was nice). I did what this Peter guy said but now I had to wait to be baptized. Anyway, I was forgiven of my sins and had a whole new family of people just like me who were forgiven too. I couldn’t wait to start hanging around with these new people! I asked the “deacon” when we were going to get together, you know maybe for meal or to see if anyone had a need we could help with. He smiled at me and said: “Now hold on son, don’t get all excited! All of us will get together just like family.”
I said great, when? Then he said something weird: “On the next first day of the week, at around the fifth hour we are going to meet for a ‘worship service’. We should be done by the sixth hour. Make sure you wear your best toga!” I was confused. We have to wait until then? Why not right away? He started getting a little testy “Son, Pastor Peter can’t be everywhere at once and we can’t meet without him”. Chagrined, I asked what I should bring to the meeting. “You don’t need to bring anything except maybe a stylus and some papyrus to take notes on while Pastor Peter is preaching.” Now I was really confused. So only Pastor Peter was speaking, we were all just going to sit around and listen to him? The “deacon” was getting really upset now. He said something about me having a problem with authority and that I must be one of those “emergent” types. I had no idea what that meant but it sounded bad. I had only been a part of this church for a few minutes and I was already in trouble! The deacon stomped off toward Pastor Peter.
I got really nervous when Pastor Peter came over to me. He was smiling though so I figured this was all just a misunderstanding. He came up to me, shook my hand and invited me to his office. He had tons of scrolls on the walls (although some looked liked they had never been unrolled) and a piece of papyrus from Jerusalem Baptist Seminary declaring that he has some sort of special educational achievement. I couldn’t read half of what the papyrus said but the words were very flowery and there was a fancy wax seal on it, so it must be official. Pastor Peter began to tell me why it was important that I submit to the pastors of the church even when it didn’t make much sense. Pastor Peter told me that he was specially charged with making sure that no one believed the wrong things or said the wrong things so it was best if he did all of the talking and we learned from him. I asked what would happen if I really wanted to serve this Jesus that I had just learned about. Pastor Peter beamed at me and said “Well, if after a while you feel ‘called to the ministry’ we can see about getting you enrolled in the Jerusalem Baptist Seminary. It is kind of expensive but you can always get loans to pay for your classes!” That seemed like an odd way to go about it, but Pastor Peter knew what he was talking about.
I left his office feeling much better and headed to the nearby clothing shop. No way was I showing up to this ‘worship service’ thing in an old toga!