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Welcome to Ninety-Seven

By H. A. (Buster) Dobbs

religion, articles, christianity We are about to turn the page to a fresh new year. No smears or blotches on it ­ yet. It is clean and pure and we can do with it as we will. It is really nothing more than a marker on the calendar ­ a way for time­bound people to count days. Still, it has some advantages and provides an opportunity to take inventory and make resolves.

By the way 1996 was really the 2,000th Year since the birth of Jesus. The designer of our present calendar, I am told by those who seem to know, miscalculated and while he intended to start the current era with the birth of Jesus he missed it by a little. Jesus was born 4 B.C., just 2,000 years ago. If the world continues, plenty of soothsayers will soon appear saying that something momentous ­ like the end of the world-will happen in the year 2,000, as we reckon time. Just wanted you to know they missed it by four years. Their mistake, like the mistake of the Gregorian calendar maker, is a reminder that none of us is faultless, as if we needed to be reminded.

What about the upcoming year? What will it be like? Like every year it will have some surprises, disappointments, successes and mysteries. Some will gain a fortune, while others will lose all they have; some will enjoy good health and others will be sick; most will live, but some will die, leaving a rent in the vale and a vanishing memory. It will be a year like all years for the most of us. It will be made up of commonplace and ordinary things. It will present us with challenges and opportunities, which we can improve and gain from, or which we can fumble and forfeit. A lot of what happens to us in the next 365 days will be of our own making, but some of it will be the random vicissitudes of earthly existence. Mercifully, God has veiled the immediate future so we do not fail to enjoy the good taste of the present in anticipation of treasure to come, nor cause present joys to pall because of impending disaster.

Still, we wonder about the morrow. There are some noble things we can well hope for, look for, and work toward. In our muse of coming things it is natural for readers of this journal to think of eternal realities, since that is where our hearts are. We, of course, think of the church-her duties, her joys and her destiny. Here are some of the things we might well wish for the church in the coming year:

A greater level of basic honesty. I want this for myself as well as for others, but, to be brutally honest, I am thinking more of others than I am of me. (When others think about this same thing the process will be reversed.) I do not say that in discussion of spiritual matters any one is scheming and devious. Yet, it is true that even sincere people are so eager to have their ideas and positions accepted they will sometime be snared in the trap of disingenuous behavior. They do not think of it as being dishonest and would recoil from the suggestion that they are being mendacious, but facts are facts and it is true that good people can behave in a rotten way.

Perhaps an example or two will help to get the point across. Professor Andre Resner of Abilene Christian University said that the mother of Jesus was "a sexually questionable woman" and the birth of Jesus was a "scandal" and an "outlandishly embarrassing story" (Wineskins, Volume I, Number 7, Page 6). This provoked a torrent of criticism of the Abilene teacher. To fix this, Resner made the statement, "I believe in the virgin birth." He also apologized to the President and Board of ACU for causing them trouble. Finally, he said he was sorry others had misunderstood him, and that he was really talking to baby boomers ­ the rest of us were snoopers.

He never said he was wrong and should not have made the statement. He did not withdraw his description of the blessed Mary as a "sexually questionable woman."

Andre Resner has been asked many times what he means by "virgin birth." Liberals say that when Isaiah said to Ahaz, "Behold a virgin shall conceive ..." that he was saying, "Before that young girl standing over there could have a baby" certain things would happen. Is that what Resner means by "virgin birth." When asked, "Professor Resner, do you believe that Mary, at the time of the birth of Jesus, had never known a man?" he is as silent as the proverbial tomb. Not a word! Nada!

The official spokesman for the board and administration, William E. Young, tries to pretend that Resner made it right and those who continue to ask for him to repent of his rash statements are the scoundrels. That, my dear brothers and sisters, is artificial deceit.

Another example, Professor Carroll Osburn, also of Abilene Christian University, says in his book, The Peaceable Kingdom, that the Bible contains mistakes in science. He has been asked many times to name just one mistake in science in the Bible. He will not! Why not? If he misspoke himself, let him say so and the matter will be at an end. If he meant what he said, then please tell us what the scientific mistake is. Instead he goes about with a zipped lip. Osburn will never give an instance of scientific error in the Bible because, in the first place, it isn't there and, in the second place, anything he might mention will put him in the position of denying either miracle or prophecy or both.

The administration of ACU understands this problem, but chooses to treat it as cured and to chastise and condemn those who keep asking for an explanation. The culprits, you see, are those who insist that Mary is not to be regarded as a whore, but is to be called "blessed" by all generations. Those who uphold the integrity of the Bible and insist that it is verbally inspired and therefore free of error are the enemy. Letters have flooded the brotherhood castigating the innocent and attempting to exonerate the guilty. Fundamental honesty would compel a plain statement of fact and either offer an apology or admission of rank religious liberalism. I fear it is the latter.

Still another example is in the behavior of our good friend, Rubel Shelly. He has recently told the story of how he was in discussion with a well­educated gospel preacher and asked him the question, "Are you saying that unless a person is baptized in a Church of Christ building, by a Church of Christ preacher, in a Church of Christ baptistry that he cannot be saved?" Rubel says the anonymous preacher replied, "Well, yes, I guess so, since you put it that way." By the way, this is a classic example of how easy it is to set up and demolish a straw­man.

Brother Shelly, we call on you to show the depth of your honesty by telling us plainly who this well educated preacher was so we can get his side of the story. Rubel, since you now reveal that you are willing to debate the question of salvation - at least with this unknown and perhaps fictitious preacher - how about debating with a real person. Do not merely beat the air, but be a man and have an honorable discussion, either written or verbal, with a competent opponent. We suggest the current editor of the Spiritual Sword, since you seem to disdain that publication so sincerely. If that is not acceptable, the editor of the Firm Foundation offers his services. Maybe, though, you would rather debate L. Toreador, the bull fighter.

Anyhow, it is beguiling to say that one is too good to enter into courteous discussion on points of difference, but make up all kinds of encounters in which one makes oneself into a great hero, and have his opponent slink off in shame and disgrace.

We cannot resist giving one more Rubel Shelly example. He says that all members of the church are mean, vicious, ill­tempered, and ugly in attitude. Shelly has learned better. He is kind, generous, softspoken, and longsuffering. Now, Rubel, just who are you talking about when you say the church, which is the saved people of earth, is full of bile and bitterness? Are you talking about T. B. Larrimore? Jesse P. Sewell? G. C. Brewer? Royce Money? Lynn Anderson? Mike Cope? Phillip Morrison?

Has it ever occurred to you Rubel that when you say "I am nice" and the rest of you are as mean as snakes that you are being judgmental? In all kindness and sweetness, let me remind you that Jesus once said:

Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

"Happy is the man who does not condemn himself in that which he allows."

Anyhow, let's have a little elementary fairness. Let us be candid and plain in our speech, so we can be understood by even the plowboy. In this we will be imitating the example of the greatest teacher the world has ever known.

"Nothing astonishes men so much as common sense and plain dealing." Let us learn to tell it like it is, but with civil tongue. "Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech." "Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man." "In all things showing thyself a pattern of good works: in doctrine showing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity, Sound speech, that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you."

Yipes! I spent so much time on the first wish for the new year that I don't have much room left for the rest. Anyway, here goes .... (the rest may be related to the first)

Love of truth ­ since truth makes us free. Truth is hard to love. It makes us aware of who we are and what we ought to be. Also, truth is singular. We want to be open and likable, so we hate truth, which is narrow and restrictive. Jesus said: "I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father but by me." No other way. Not Hinduism, nor Islam, nor Judaism, nor New Ageism, nor Hedonism, nor Denominationalism will bring us to the Creator­God. We must walk in the narrow, exclusive path of the one way ­ Jesus Christ. There is no other. "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved."

There is only one way because truth is one. Sprinkling is not baptism. Instrumental music is not singing. Denominationalism is not the one body. Unity is not division. Diversity is not unity. You cannot serve both God and mammon. Truth is judgmental "exclusiveism," like it or not. Loving truth means hating every false way.

You will either love, obey and follow truth. or you will be Satan's slave. We must love truth even to the point of death ­ or we do not love it at all. "Through thy precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way. Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. I have sworn, and I will perform it, that I will keep thy righteous judgments."

Courage of our convictions. Let us know what we believe and why we believe it ­ let us believe what we believe ­ and believe it with all our hearts. Someone has said, "Until we have something for which we would gladly die, we have nothing for which to live." Jesus said,

Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.

Be willing to die for what you believe ­ only such total commitment can receive a crown.

Let love of the brethren continue ...
If possible, be at peace with all men …

The New Year is coming ... ready or not. Welcome Nineteen Ninety­Seven! May it be a year of spiritual growth and prosperity because God's children are upright and transparent in their love of truth.

Published December 1996