When I was born in Salem, Oregon in the spring of 1962, the congregation where my family worshipped 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 of worshipping 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. It was, of course, 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 15 souls were baptized into Christ and 25 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 July1, 1970, when I was 8 years old that 50-member congregation worshipped 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, a few years back, 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 70’s in Salem, Oregon, both at Market Street and South Salem. I was told during these years that both congregations were booming, that often after a warm, engaging conversation with a visitor, that in the most gentle and thoughtful way, many people, including my aunt Dorothy Carnes, (who admittedly had the beauty, poise and femininity quite similar to Jackie Kennedy) smiling, would say without reservation something along the lines of “I hope you don’t mind, but may I ask if you have been baptized yet 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 ” 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 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 1970’s media line up, 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, like my own husband who now is on a similar LIVE Facebook/Youtube program called “Answering Religious Error”, were collectively pretty much walking Bibles by reason 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 seminary for Baptist preachers called Western Baptist Bible College to speak on the question “Is baptism necessary for salvation?” 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 baptised 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) baptised 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 believes (1) is (=) saved (2) + and then be baptised (1). But what makes the most sense to you? 1=2+1? No. What God says is the truth on the matter: 1+1=2. Belief plus baptism equals salvation.
And then, humble, friendly, hard to hate Al Craig with his snap-on 1970’s hair drops the mic like a rock star. Boom.
The students at this point of the recording I listened to repeatedly, 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”. But the truth to which Al Craig himself would completely agree, is that 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 God’s.
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 during the Christmas break of my senior year of high school, only four months after we had met.
I remember at 17 the wedding felt to me like 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, 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 day of our winter wedding was cloudy and cool, but dry. 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. That’s how “by the seat of our pants” wedding preparation had been.
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 the hard truth: “It’s not too late to turn around, if you want to.” This was an exceptionally generous statement, I might add, from the woman who 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’d never previously mentioned any reservations about my marrying at the age of 17 this man I had only known for four months, and it wasn’t that she personally didn’t think that I should go through with it. Her boldness with me was because she did not want me to feel unnecessarily locked into a holy covenant if I was having any doubts whatsoever. She loved me that much, but I was very ready.
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 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 kindly housed him awhile before he got his first apartment.
Our most recent visit to the congregation at Market Street was almost 42 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 the the easy way and sometimes the hard way those 42 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: An Indestructible Kingdom
Market Street Church of Christ
3745 Market Street NE
Salem, OR 97301