“I thought that referred to the Lord’s supper.”
“Well, you just thought wrong!”
That to which reference was being made is John 6:48-56. The brother, who thought those verses referred to the Lord’s supper, and I had discussed the point time and again in private. I also had preached a sermon based upon John 6, showing the significance of the verses in question. At the time the quoted “change took place, I was conducting a Sunday morning Bible class and had just finished making another application of those verses. I did not want the class sidetracked onto a discussion of the Lord’s supper and, therefore, after replying loudly, as quoted above, I continued directing the class in the direction I had been going, before he made his comment.
In a few moments it occurred to me that visitors were present and if an explanation was not given, there was no way they were going to understand why I had spoken so loudly to our elderly brother and had cut him off so shortly. I then stopped the discussion and said, “For the benefit of our visitors I need to explain about the exchange which took place a while ago. My brother and I had discussed that point numerous times in private. We do not agree, but we are not angry with one another. He is very hard of hearing and I am in the habit of raising my voice, when I speak directly to him. I did not say any thing to him this morning that I have not told him plainly in the past. I meant no offense and he did not take offense. ” Of course, I do not know how much of that explanation my brother understood, as he sat there with his hand cupped around one ear listening intently, but when I finished, he was shaking his head in agreement.
One of the most, if not the most, overbearing brethren I have ever known was a member of a church with which I became associated. One Sunday morning he disagreed with a conclusion I was drawing. He spoke up and expressed his view. Such exchanges certainly have their place in a Bible class, but after having expressed his view, the brother proceeded to try to take the class and run with it under his direction. When it became apparent that he intended to take over the class from his seat, I said, “Brother _________, will you please read . . . .”
Upon my naming the passage which I wanted him to read and which I considered a death blow to his contention, he responded, “You have it; you read it.” I did read it and then with the class back under my direction continued the lesson for that day.
In one church where I worked there was a faction. Most of those who formed that faction attended the Sunday morning class which I taught. About 50 percent, if not more, of the class were a part of the faction. Nearly every Sunday morning one of the factious brethren would have a question ready to ask me, before I could get started with the lesson of the day. Invariably I would respond, “Let us look at what the Bible has to say about that.” Then I would read or have read a passage or two which would answer the question. With that ritual out of the way, we could proceed with the lesson of the day, without further distractions.
Some time after I moved from there, I saw one of the sisters who had been in that class. We did some reminiscing and then she said, “You never ceased to amaze me in that class. Those brethren laid a trap for you nearly every Sunday morning and that did not seem to bother you at all. You would just go to the Scriptures and let the Bible answer their questions and then go on with the lesson.”
What could I say? Such praise is pretty heady stuff. She was certainly right about those questions not bothering me. I replied, “They were at a disadvantage; I had the Bible on my side.” Now after having had time to think about that response, I have concluded: “I had the Bible” to back me up, would have been a better choice of words.
It is possible, while considering a particular point, to allow a discussion to turn onto a subject which does not pertain to the point. That is the way a ladies class, I was trying to conduct, led me into talking about the “covering question.”
I suspect that very few brethren, who consider themselves experts on that subject, have ever viewed it from the standpoint from which Paul viewed it. In I Corinthians Paul answered some questions he had received from the church at Corinth. We can know that those questions were asked about a Christian’s freedom in Christ, because much of Paul’s letter deals with that freedom.
The moral climate in Corinth was such that no virtuous maiden or chaste and modest matron appeared in public with her face visible. It appears to me that the question Paul answered must have been worded something like this: “If we are free persons in Christ, governed by God’s moral standard, is it wrong for our women’s faces to be visible in our assemblies?” Probably all of us would agree that to the church at Corinth Paul answered, “Yes! That would be wrong.” However, there is disagreement regarding why Paul gave that answer.
It seems to me that the moral climate in Corinth required Paul’s answer. A Christian’s freedom in Christ does not permit Christians to flaunt their freedom in communities where circumstances have resulted in the people setting a higher standard than one’s freedom in Christ would otherwise allow. Thus when Paul wrote, “. . . if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God,” he would have been saying that neither he nor “churches of God” customarily exercised freedom in Christ, when in a community where indulging in that freedom would be considered disgraceful by the populace. Therefore, their women must not uncover their faces in the assemblies of the church at Corinth.
Whether right or wrong about that, I told the women of that class, which I was trying to conduct, that if they were in the habit of wearing something they considered a covering, because to not wear such would be a violation of their consciences, they had better continue to wear it until such time their consciences would no longer require them to wear it. Several of them had been wearing such an item of apparel. Others apparently had been trying to persuade them to quit wearing such an item. I had plainly expressed my view and at the same time had come to the aid and defense of those sisters in the class who held the opposite view.
I did not mention that matter again, the rest of the time I preached there. However, when I moved from there not a single sister in that church continued the habit of wearing such an item of apparel.
When Jesus sent His apostles to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, He told them, “Behold I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Mt. 10:16). Is there another description which could more vividly portray their vulnerability? Is any thing more vulnerable than a “sheep in the midst of wolves”?
Survival in a hostile world requires the exercise of much wisdom, but to be an effective and faithful gospel preacher, one must realize that human wisdom is not enough. A gospel preacher must depend upon God to give him wisdom (Prov. 2:6; Jas. 1:5).
Being “harmless as doves” a preacher must avoid using deception, regardless of the reasons which might make it seem the thing to use, and always be completely honest. “The wisdom that is from above is first pure . . . ” (Jas. 3:17). One of the best uninspired statements about honesty that I have come across was, I believe, made by the late Sam Rayburn of Texas and speaker of the House of Representatives: “Honesty is not a policy at all. You either is or you ain’t.”
May preachers who work with small churches courageously meet the challenges of their work and faithfully serve our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ.
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 17, pp. 523-524
September 6, 1984