Monday, May 20, 2013
By: Thomas Booher
It seems like I haven't been able to entrench myself anywhere since graduating high school. I went to the same Christian school from K-5 through graduation, but since then everything has been turbulent. I dropped out of college three times before coming to RBC. My reasons, believe it or not, were quite good, except for the first time. The first time I was still in high school and was taking some college classes, and after a semester of doing that my buddy and I decided we would rather focus on sports and worry about college after we had graduated. Then I went to UNC- Pembroke, a public university, where everything changed. It changed the day I got there, immersed in a new environment on a much larger campus than anything I was accustomed to. It changed because I was no longer living at home and now had to set my own schedule and decide what I was going to do with my life.
The first thing I wanted to do was find the Baptist Student Union, not because I was a Baptist but because it was the only Christian organization on campus. I wanted to plug into a Bible study. I got much more than that. I found a good friend who led me to Calvinism, a fellow student who was the Christian Growth Coordinator, basically the fellow that instructed the Bible study leaders how to lead their Bible studies (being offered the same position at the end of the semester after my friend was leaving, I soon came to find out it involved more, like planning retreats). I was skipping classes to read the Bible and scan the internet for reformed articles and teaching. It soon became apparent that I needed to return home and begin in earnest to know the God I loved, because I didn't. I knew nothing of His sovereign grace, of His electing love, and it had captivated me and set my heart ablaze. It moved me to evangelize, something I had virtually never done before. I was emboldened to proclaim the gospel, the exact opposite of what most non-Calvinists claim the doctrines of grace would cause you to do. This is because they don't know the love of God like a Calvinist does.
So I left UNC Pembroke. I returned home and studied the Word for a semester on my own, then went to Covenant College-- for ten days. That is because I quickly found out Covenant College had little to offer someone who was serious about the study of God's Word within an environment of like-minded, sincere believers. Maybe that is unfair, maybe I had some bad apples in my dorm, too small of a sample size, but it was enough to scare me away (plus the $35,000 a year helped push me out the door). I left Covenant College, the college of the PCA, dejected, having vowed never again to attend a Christian college. I was told by several reformed pastors and a former teacher from Covenant that I was looking for the "utopic dream" in a college. This preposterous dream that I had was one where I could actually study God's Word with fellow believers who were earnest to do the same, and weren't chiefly concerned with sex, drugs, being cool, or screwing around. Such a place didn't exist, I was told.
I was advised to go to a secular university and just look for a good church to satisfy my "environmental needs." I was told to be a witness at my college, and it almost came off like I was a weak-willed Christian for wanting a solid place to study God's Word. At any rate, I began working at a Cracker Barrel and eventually took online classes at the local community college. I was happy, but after leaving Covenant and hearing reformed pastors give such bad advice, another alarm went off in my head. Not only was the broader conservative evangelical non-Calvinist church in great danger, the Calvinistic churches were dying too. I still believe that, and that's a great motivation for me to be a pastor. The need is great. The harvest is plenty, but the laborers are few.
I came across Reformation Bible College on Ligonier Ministries website one day. I couldn't believe it. Not a seminary, but a Bible college by R.C. Sproul was opening. The timing was perfect. I was able to cram the next semester and then over the summer to accumulate the required 60 credit hours to transfer to RBC for the inaugural class. The reason I did not hesitate to attend RBC was because this was a Bible college, and not just any Bible college, but Sproul's Bible college. I was sure if any college would be sound and would attract like-minded, passionate believers, this would be it.
I had my fears, but they were soon quelled. One of the best decisions of my life was to come to RBC, not only for the education, but because I found my wife at Sproul's church. You cannot replicate the learning experience while sitting under professors. Online distance learning simply isn't the same. The class discussions and fellowship with your classmates will uplift your spirit and truly does facilitate learning. If you are reformed and think you can do well without attending Bible college, I would challenge that notion, because I have learned so much that I didn't even have a category for as a Calvinist before I came to RBC. In other words, I have learned stuff that I never even would have known to seek out on my own.
I came to RBC when I was 21. Now I am 23. The three years or so before I came to RBC and after I graduated high school were not normal. I had very few friends because most of my old ones didn't like my new beliefs and I didn't like theirs. I had it out with the Christian school I attended for their say a prayer for salvation gospel presentation. My girlfriend had left me. What I found at RBC was traction, interaction with like-minded believers face to face. Before I came to RBC I had never met another Calvinist my age except for a few at Pembroke. I have developed spiritual bonds with my peers unlike anything I have experienced before.
Which brings me to the crux of this post. I'm leaving. Some of my friends are leaving. Others are staying. Many are not sure if they will attend seminary, or where. It's possible some could end up at Greenville Seminary with me, but it isn't likely. Thanks to God I am not leaving alone. My wife and our child in her womb are coming with me. We are leaving and cleaving, but to do so requires separation. Separation from friends, from her family, people we love and will miss dearly. We go to a place we do not know for the first time on our own. We are grown ups now in a foreign land. My question is, what leads us to do this, again and again? Why tear down and build up in another place?
Jocelyn and I have felt a bit like uprooted plants since the first month of our marriage. We know we are leaving soon, and where we are now isn't our true home. We are thankful for the provisions we have been given, but God has designed husband and wife to set out on their own. To set deep roots, to start families, not to hold on to their children forever, but to raise covenant children that will some day leave and cleave themselves, being strong in the faith, sprinkling the salt and light of Christ wherever they go. This has to do with being witnesses, with advancing the gospel, with the dominion mandate to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth and subdue it. This has to do with what it means to be human, to be made in the image of God.
Sin has complicated things. The sorrow of goodbye carries a keen sting because of sin. The financial hardships and fear for one's health and safety is because of sin. Marital strife and mistreatment of one another is because of our sin and sin's adverse affects on creation. Yet we have still been given a commission, to subdue the earth, to spread out and proclaim the gospel to all we come across. To reproduce and train children to follow Christ and bear His image well, and last but not least, to set our sights on the city that is to come, for here we have no lasting city (Heb. 13:14). It is for the kingdom, then, that we venture about, but not aimlessly. We are guided by the Kingdom, by Christ and His example. Some leave the country and forsake the comforts of America to literally give their lives for the advance of the gospel where it has not been heard, where the land is dangerous and the ground is wet with the blood of martyrs. Others, like my wife and I, will water where others have built, though things are beginning to be so bad even here that weeding and replanting must be done before watering can occur. All of us must suffer like Christ before we can enter His glory. Part of that suffering is going away, saying goodbye, to some for the last time before heaven.
It will happen again. After seminary, after four years or more of the hard study that produces a bond with classmates like iron, with those who have struggled through the trying classes with me, who share my passions and convictions, I will leave. They will leave. We will be dispersed like Israel. We will be elect exiles in a foreign land. We will do it because we have been driven by God to do it. For the King of Kings, and for His Kingdom, we will go, we will preach, and we will die. And our children and our children's children will take up the mantle, the emblem of the family trade, which is the cross.
Our children will carry on the battle while we enter our rest with Jesus Christ our Elder Brother. Then and only then will we have a lasting city, and all the fellow believers that we have had to say goodbye to will be reunited in one glorious family reunion that will never end, centered around the one who united us together as a family, our Lord and Savior, Redeemer and Friend, Christ the Righteous. This is why we tear down and build up in another place. What a worthy cause we have. All by grace.