Market Street Church of Christ in Salem, Oregon

When I was born in Salem, Oregon in the spring of 1962, the congregation where my family worshiped had been around for over fifty years. Some 200 members had moved from downtown Salem to a newly constructed building on the north side of town on Market Street, just off the interstate highway.

During my earliest childhood memories while worshiping with my father, mother, and sister, we would always sit in the back, where I would often rest on the carpeted floor and enjoy watching the novel view of hundreds of legs and feet dangling down from the pews in front of us — a curious perspective that I’ve not had the opportunity to enjoy for quite some time now. When I was not lounging on the floor, I’d crawl up in my father’s lap and lay my face against his chest, with my ear to his heart and soak in the deep comfort of the low sounds of his voice praising His God.

A few years later, about the time I started the first grade, Al Craig replaced Luther Roberts as the evangelist. In his first year at the Market Street Church of Christ fifteen souls were baptized into Christ and twenty-five spiritual wanderers came back to God. ln 1969, as the congregation grew enough to begin preparations to establish a congregation across town in south Salem where my family lived, Market Street added Pete Wilson as a second evangelist, and on July 1, 1970, when I was eight years old that fifty-member congregation worshiped together for the first time, with Pete Wilson as our preacher. This was the congregation in which I grew up, watching my mother’s soul flourish under this preacher’s in-depth Bible classes. My own life benefitted from the ripple effects of her spiritual growth, as her warm relationship with God made all the difference in my development.

During the last months of her life, when visitors from her congregation would swing by her hospital room to visit, I was given an interesting glimpse by some that had been baptized in the ‘70s in Salem, Oregon, both at Market Street and South Salem. I was told that during this period of time both congregations were booming and part of the reason was likely their approach. I learned, for example, that often after engaging in warm conversation with a visitor, my aunt Dorothy Carnes, with her beauty, poise and femininity not unlike Jackie Kennedy, would without reservation say in the most gentle, thoughtful way, something along the lines of “I hope you don’t mind, but may I ask if you have been baptized into Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, because we can help you with that if you need to, and we offer a class to learn about it too if you would be interested in attending.” All things considered, this very loving and yet direct approach bore much good fruit back in those days and sometimes makes me wonder what kind of fruit would result if a similar approach were used these fifty years later.

Boldness worked. In fact, back in those days, there was a radio program called “Ask Your Preacher” in which Market Street’s preacher, Al Craig, participated. The program was one of the highlights of my mother’s 1970s media lineup, and if I walked in while it was on, I knew to “keep it down” so she wouldn’t miss a word as she multitasked waxing the floor or dusting my dad’s ridiculous softball trophies. In this program, anyone from any religious background could call in and get their Bible questions answered on the spot. Occasionally, someone would call just to try to stump these preachers, but these men, were collectively pretty much walking Bibles because of the amount of time they’d spent pouring over every single inspired word. And because they were so attentive to the text, they were sure to have an appropriate and applicable book, chapter and verse that provided God’s own answers to anyone’s sincere, or insincere, question.

More boldness was manifested when Market Street’s preacher, Al Craig, was invited by a professor at a local Baptist seminary called Western Baptist Bible College to speak on the question “Is baptism necessary for salvation?” for young students there. My mother played it several times when I was growing up and if memory serves, it seems it was at this presentation that I first heard the most simple explanation to give anyone who believes, as these Baptist preachers were often taught, that we are saved by faith alone. First, I remember that after Al made clear the only place the words “faith alone” appear in scripture together is when God says “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24). Then he made this simple point that has always stuck with me:

“God says ‘He that believes and is baptized shall be saved’ but Baptists often teach ‘He that believes is saved, and should be baptized as an outward sign of having been saved by faith alone’. But again, God said, ‘He that believes and is baptized shall be saved’ which is as simple as the most basic math equation. 1+1=2. He that (1) believes (+) and is (1) baptized shall be (=) saved (2). God says belief + baptism = salvation. God says 1+1=2. But do you see what you are saying? You are teaching something different than 1 + 1 =2. You are teaching He that (1) believes shall be (=) saved (2) + and then be baptized (1). But what makes the most sense to you? 1=2+1? (belief equals salvation plus you should be baptized?) That’s not what God said, and what God says is what the truth is on the matter: 1+1=2. Belief plus baptism equals salvation.”

You could hear a pin drop at that point of my mother’s cassette tape, as humble, friendly, hard-to-hate Al Craig, with his snap-on 191970s hair, just sort of drops the mic like a rock star. Boom.

The students at this point of the recording were then invited to ask questions, and Al articulately and boldly answered every one so thoroughly that finally toward the end of the question and answer session, one of them humbly asked this “elephant in the room” question, “Will God still forgive one’s sins at baptism if the baptized one did not understand at the time he was baptized that it was for the forgiveness of sins?” Al had built a biblical case so tight and concise that when the professor took the mic back, his honest response was, “Well… I think everyone in this classroom would have to agree: this was the single most scholarly presentation we have heard all year.” It’s easier to sound scholarly when one lets the Bible answer every Bible question because no one wins an argument against God Himself. All glory is entirely God’s, as Al Craig would entirely concur.

About ten years after the congregation I grew up in was formed, I met Mark in August of 1979. He was baptized a month later and we began to plan our wedding to be held inside the church building at Market Street (a 70s move, by the way, that many of us would opt out of now) during the Christmas break of my senior year of high school, only four months after we had met.

At age 17, I remember feeling that the wedding was simply a fun little hoop I was being required to jump through by my people in order to have what I really wanted: to be married to Mark. Friends and family pitched in to make it happen very frugally. Market Street, of course, did not charge us for the use of the building. My Uncle Jim took the photos while my Aunt Dorothy did all the flowers. A Christian friend, who was a professional baker, asked us to simply show him a picture of the cake we wanted, and he made our cake as a wedding gift. It was beautiful, with little white love birds on the top instead of the bride and groom figurines that often topped wedding cakes back then. The wedding was so “by the seat of our pants” that before I put on my dress, I decided to jet across the street to a humble department store called Fred Meyer, and bought a little heart-shaped locket from their fine jewelry department.

Just before the music was to start for my three bridesmaids to walk down the aisle, my Aunt Dorothy came into the room where we were about ready, gently took me by the shoulders, looked me straight in the eye, and gently spoke this hard truth: “It’s not too late to turn around, if you want to.” This was an exceptionally generous statement, given this woman was the epitome of social grace and had stayed up all night preparing the flowers! This elegant, poised aunt of mine was willing to go through the embarrassment of telling two hundred seated guests that the wedding had been canceled, if that's what I thought needed to happen in order to protect my future. She loved me that much. It wasn’t that she thought that I shouldn’t go through with it, but rather, her bold conversation with me was because she did not want me to feel unnecessarily locked into a holy covenant if I was having any doubts whatsoever. The truth was that I was very ready at the tender age of 17 to marry this man I had only known for four months, and even this many decades later, it’s impossible to be in this building in which I was married, without thinking of the details of that blessed day.

Throughout the years that followed, Market Street would host an annual youth lectureship that our children would often attend. When we’d been married well over three decades, my son, Zach, started his career in mechanical engineering, and the Market Street church of Christ received him with open arms and were very good to him. In fact, our good friends Barry and Debbie Root even housed him, for a time, before he got his first apartment.

Our most recent visit to the congregation at Market Street was almost forty-two years since we’d exchanged our vows by candlelight that winter night in 1979, and it was the first of all the other congregations we would visit during our second year living nomadically. We could never have imagined the challenges the enemy of our souls would hurl our direction from 1979 to 2021, but the longevity of our marriage is certainly proof that God’s wisdom boldly applied to life can make fly the marriage of a 17-year-old girl to a 21-year-old man, even if they’ve only known each other four months.

Marriages, like everything else, work like clockwork when we live out the fruits of the Spirit and marriage gets chaotic when we don’t. Sometimes we learned that truth the hard way over the last forty-two years. The same is true for the Kingdom of God. It’s indestructible and a source of strength and growth when we boldly submit to God’s wisdom in every corner of church life. Every corner. And that indestructible nature of the Kingdom of God is the very thing Mark chose to preach about for the congregation when we passed through on our quest to visit 100 churches. If you’d like to check out that lesson, it’s on their website and is entitled “An Indestructible Kingdom”.

Market Street Church of Christ
3745 Market Street NE
Salem, OR 97301
(503) 362-5634