The Burial of Stephen - Modern Style
After the first martyr had fallen, bruised, battered and bleeding, the victim of the very Jews he was seeking to save, the scripture tells us that "devout men, buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him." (Acts 8 :2 ) With due apologies to these unnamed men of God, let us for the moment assign to them an up-to-date, 1955 model "Christian" attitude, and listen in on an imaginary conversation which they might have had as they carried the martyr to his burial:
First Devout Man: "Alas, poor brother Stephen ! I kept telling hin that his flair for debating was going to get him into trouble some day, but I didn't expect it would come to this."
Second Devout Man: "Well, you never call tell what people will do if you just keep on criticizing them. I tried my best to get Brother Stephen not to preach so hard, especially about other people's religion. You can't expect to convert people if you're always making them mad, and that's about all you accomplish when you talk about their religion."
Third Devout Man: "How well I know it! You know, my wife was a Sadducee before coming into the church, and her folks still are. Well, we worked on them for months before we ever could them to come to church with us, but finally we persuaded them to come one time, and of all things, do you know what Stephen preached on that Lord's Day? The Resurrection! And you know Stephen! - it wasn't enough for him just to express his views on the doctrine of resurrection - he had to go and say that without the resurrection all religion is vain. And as if that weren't enough, he mentioned the Sadducees by name and said that they do not believe in a resurrection! Well, sir, I wanted to drop right through the floor! My wife was mortified, and her folks were so angry they could hard1y speak. They stomped out of the Meeting house and vowed that they would never again set foot in a Christian assembly. They accused iy wife and me of telling the preacher they were coming so he would deliberately preach to them. We apologized to them, and assured them that if we had known Stephen's subject beforehand we wouldn't have taken them with us; but they've been pretty cool toward us ever since. I doubt if we'll ever be able to reach them now."
Second Devout Man: "What a shame, after YOU had worked with them so hard ! It really must have been discouraging to your wife.
Third Devout Man: "Discouraging is right! Why, she was so torn up over it that she couldn't bring herself to attend services for several weeks. Instead, she went out to that little synagogue where all the Herodians go. Now, those people out there are broadminded. No controversial doctrines. They wouldn't insult anybody. They believe in being kind to everybody. The rabbi said that preachers who are dogmatic about religion are just narrow-minded bigots who are determined to make evervbody do things their way or else."
Second Devout Man: "Do you mean you went to the synagogue, too ?"
Third Devout Man: "Well, er, yea. Us . . . Well, my wife was going over there, and I always felt like a husband ought to share their religion. I heard a preacher say something one time about a husband and wife ought to be 'heirs together of the grace of life,' or something like that. Yes, I went with her. We enjoyed their services over there, but the people weren't very friendly, so we decided to come back to the church. Mv wife still won't take the bread and wine, though."
First Devout Man : "I know just how she feels, and can't say as I blame her too much. You people aren't the first to be insulted by Stephen. I really hate to say it, but frankly, I feel like the church is better off without him, unless he would change his way of preaching."
Fourth Devout Man: "Oh, he was too stubborn to do that! He wanted to change everybody else, but you couldn't change him! Why, not long, ago I gave him a copy of Rabbi Backscratcher's new book, 'How To Please People and Persuade the Populace,' and told him it would help him to get more additions and fewer subtractions. You know what he said? He figured the word and guidance of the Holy Spirit was enough to enable him to please God, and if that didn't please men too, he was sorry, but it couldn't be helped."
Second Devout Man: "Such nerve! Well, it's the attitude of preachers like him that makes it hard for the church to grow. They can tear down with one sermon all the headway we've made with our friends in a year of our personal work."
First Devout Man: "That's what I told Brother Stephen one time, and he said, 'Be thankful, brother, that you've been able to get your friends to hear the gospel one time, at least. You've done that much good. From there it's up to them. You cannot obey the gospel for them, and you cannot force them to obey it for themselves. You have seen that they have a chance to know the truth. You have been a faithful servant. Keep up the good work, and don't be discouraged because all of your prospects don't accept the gospel. After all, look at the converts that even Jesus didn't make.' Isn't that a foolish attitude to take?"
Third Devout Man: "Well, like you said, we hate to say it about him, zealous as he undoubtedly was, but the church is certainly better off without him. And I'll tell you another preacher that we could do without, too, if " you want my opinion, and that's Brother Peter."
First Devout Man: "Right again! Did you hear about him offending so many people with his criticisms and accusations that they canceled his free time on the Temple Devotional Hour?"
Fourth Devout Man: "You don't say!"
First Devout Man: "I do say! Every time he got a chance to speak on the Temple hookup he would talk about how the Jews had crucified Christ and couldn't be saved unless they repented, and a lot of other things that offended people. There were so many complaints about it that the Greater Jerusalem Rabbis' Association finally just forbad him to speak anymore. But I thought everyone knew about that."
Fourth Devout Man: "Well, it probably happened while I was on my vacation up at my fishing camp on the Sea of Tiberius. I was out of touch with all the brethren for a whole month. No church within six miles, you know."
First Devout Man: "Oh, I see. Well, it caused quite a stir. Really put the church in a bad light among the outsiders. You know, the church is not nearly as well thought of as it used to be, and-."
Third Devout Man: "That's right; why, I can remember when they used to let us meet in the temple, and we had favor with all the people."
First Devout Man: "Yes, but not any more, and as I was going to say, it's purely the fault of these narrowminded preachers like Peter and Stephen, who persist in talking about other people's sins and critizing other religions. People just won't stand too much of that."
Second Devout Man: "That's for sure. This job we're doing right now proves that. But how long do you suppose Peter will get away with it?"
First Devout Man: "Probablv not long. The people's treatment of Stephen today shows that their patience is just about at an end."
Third Devout Man: "Yes, and the really sad part of it is that the whole church will probably have to suffer for the crudeness of these few men."
Fourth Devout Man: "Well, I don't intend to lose all my friends because of their narrowminded preaching. I have been a Christian for thirty years, but only during the year and a half that I've been in the church have I had any trouble getting along with my orthodox friends. If the church gets much more unpopular, I'll just quit. I know lots of Christian people who aren't in the church, and if they can be good folks outside the church, so can I."
Third Devout Man: "Now, now, brother! That's no way to feel. The church needs men like you to show the world that we aren't all argumentive, dogmatic and tactless. After all, you do believe in Christ, don't you?"
Fourth Devout Man: "Of course."
Third Devout Man: "And you aren't ashamed of him, of his church, or his gospel, are you?"
Fourth Devout Man: "Why, you know I'm not!"
Third Devout Man: "And you do love God's truth, and are willing to stand for it?"
Fourth Devout Man: "Absolutely!"
First Devout Man: "Them's my sentiments, too!"
Second Devout Man: "Mine, too!"
Third Devout Man: "Fine. Then let's all go, and apologize to the council for all those nasty things that Stephen said awhile ago."
(Taken from Gospel Guardian, May 26, 1955)
Truth Magazine II:3, pp. 4-5, 17