BY Win Dolan

Highlights of Our Story  First Baptist Church: 1867-2007
A year long series that originally appeared in the Tidings  (article #6)

In the early days of First Baptist Church there were strict rules of conduct. Violation could mean dismissal from the fellowship for such offenses as dancing or being seen in a place serving alcohol. I don’t know how often these rules were actually enforced, but clearly they have long been outdated as our social culture has evolved, or as some might say, has deteriorated.

Religion and morality have always gone together, but what is right and what is wrong? The laws of Moses listed hundreds of do’s and don’ts, but Jesus dismissed most of them, while emphasizing those that agreed with his gospel of love. He drank wine but condemned drunkenness — there were certainly alcoholics in his day as always. Recognizing the same threat to society, Islam forbids alcohol.

In my childhood in a minister’s home, we had no playing cards, but we did have Rook, a pack with which one could imitate many card games. We even had no Sunday papers, but my father’s Sunday School class of young men collected newspapers for recycling and stored them in our shed, where I could sort out the Sunday comics and enjoy Buster Brown or the Katzenjammer Kids. After Dad left the pastorate and became a state Baptist staffer, somehow both cards and comics appeared, perhaps reflecting his generally liberal convictions.

Smoking tobacco is an example of a practice that has changed from forbidden on moral grounds to grudging acceptance to recognition as a personal and public health threat, with gradual banishment by law from more and more environments. Yet our church, as far as I know, has no formal position about tobacco.

Relaxation of “thou shalt not” rules has gone along with easing of social practices as well. Not too long ago a college professor with a PhD would always be addressed by his title as Professor A or Dr. B; now he is just Jim or Tom, even the president. And where have the neckties gone?

Where does all this leave us? There’s a story about a lady who listened with approval as the preacher denounced dancing, smoking, card playing and more. Then he added snuff-dipping, whereupon the lady whispered to her neighbor, “Now he’s quit preachin’ and gone to meddlin’.” We are left, each of us, with a profound and yes, moral responsibility to consider how we conduct our own lives, and to sort out the fundamental from the trivial.