Every now and then comes an unexpected gift. Not a gift like a check in the mail with lots of numbers before the decimal point, nor yet a gift like the fluorescent tie that Great Aunt Tildie sent last Christmas, but a Providential gift: a situation that emerges out of thin air, unexpectedly brimming with delight and provoking an uncontrollable chortle, as if a surly ogre who had belched at you every day for the past ten years appeared one morning in a tutu singing “The Good Ship Lollipop.” Yes, that kind of gift. It comes out of nothing, catches you by surprise, and leaves you speechless until you melt into tears of mirth.
Yogi Berra provided many such moments. Commenting on baseball he remarked that “ninety percent of baseball is mental and the other half is physical.” Exhibiting his knowledge of presidential politics he observed that “Texas has a lot of electrical votes.” Displaying his grasp of monetary theory he once noted that, “a nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.”
Sometimes the joke is on us. Several years ago, D. A. Waite, editor of The Bible for Today, wrote to Central Seminary expressing displeasure with our views on the King James Version and the Textus Receptus. One of my colleagues was tasked with responding, but we all read and approved his reply. In spite of multiple proofreadings, we discovered the typo only after his letter had gone out. It was addressed to The Bile for Today. Perhaps that was a Freudian slip.
Pulpits are hazardous places for such occurrences. I remember hearing a preacher loudly declaim that men were lovers of darkness rather than light because “their eeds were deevil.” Noticing the bemused expressions of his listeners, he repeated and emphasized the point.
Then there’s the case of the preacher who was interrupted by someone’s iPhone—not by the ring tone, but by the voice of Siri announcing, “I’m sorry, but I didn’t understand what you said.”
Students are an unending source of such amusement, and professors love to share their pronouncements with each other. For example, one bright collegian wrote, “Rome went on to conquer other territories and planets.” A budding scholar of international affairs asserted, “Since the beginning of time, the national language of Australia has been English.” One of my own favorites came from a student who wanted to hedge an assertion so as not to appear overconfident, so he began his sentence, “Suppositorily speaking. . . .”
Whether a physical pratfall, a slip of the tongue, or a contorted situation, these episodes simply appear, uncontrived, to brighten our days. Part of their humor lies in the surprise, and part of it lies in the incongruity. Part of the humor also lies in the fact that these moments represent our common, error-prone humanity.
One of the most delightful forms of this humor consists in missing the point. For example, a companion and I were once looking up at the stadium where the Denver Broncos used to play. With a suspicious look, my companion turned to me and asked, “Is that stadium really a Mile High?” I had to admit that it certainly didn’t look that tall.
I experienced a comparable moment earlier this week. For the past couple of weeks, I’ve used In the Nick of Time to challenge some of the assumptions behind Plymouth Brethren polity. I’ve challenged the notion that the Scripture requires elders to function as decision-makers over the local church. I began by observing that the case for Plymouth Brethren polity rests largely upon two arguments: first, that congregations are not competent to make their own decisions, and second, that elders are supposed to rule (in the sense of govern) churches. In response to the first argument, I produced several examples of New Testament congregations selecting their own servants, defining their own doctrine, and disfellowshipping and readmitting their own members. I then dealt with the standard objection: i.e., that Paul and Barnabas (in Acts 14:23) and Titus (in Titus 1:5) appointed elders for the churches. Examination of these passages, however, showed that they were perfectly compatible with congregational election of elders. In other words, they do not constitute evidence against congregational polity. I then promised to pursue the second argument, i.e., that elders are supposed to rule and congregations are supposed to obey.
Then early this week I received word from less-than-attentive antagonist who took me to task for two reasons. First, he objected that my treatment of Acts 14:23 and Titus 1:5 was an argument from silence, so it did not prove congregational polity. Second, he objected that I had failed to deal with the biblical teaching that elders are to rule and congregations are to obey.
Sometimes you just have to laugh, and I did. Fortunately for my interlocutor we don’t hand out dunce caps any more—though I admit to wondering how Mad-Eye Moody would treat a student who responded this way. But we don’t use transfiguration as a teaching tool at Central Seminary, either.
Actually, I agree with my interlocutor—removing an objection does not prove one’s case. It merely removes the objection. The argument against which the objection was registered is what proves the case.
As for dealing with the matter of elders ruling and congregations obeying, well, we could be doing that now if I hadn’t been interrupted. But I’m glad I was. The interruption was a gift, however unintentionally given. I’ve got a good laugh out of it.
So, now that we’ve got that out of the way, it’s time to continue the discussion. What does the New Testament actually teach about pastoral authority? What does it actually require of church members when it commands them to obey? I promise, I’ll get back to those questions next week—barring any other unforeseen intrusions.
And then I think that perhaps we’ll circle back and talk specifically about the situation in Acts 6. It really is a key passage for understanding how New Testament church order is supposed to work, and it includes dimensions of meaning that are seldom noted. It deserves a closer look.
This essay is by Kevin T. Bauder, Research Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.
Christ, whose glory fills the skies
Charles Wesley (1707–1788)
Christ, whose glory fills the skies,
Christ, the true, the only Light,
Sun of Righteousness, arise,
Triumph o’er the shades of night;
Dayspring from on high, be near;
Day-star, in my heart appear.
Dark and cheerless is the morn
Unaccompanied by Thee;
Joyless is the day’s return
Till Thy mercy’s beams I see;
Till they inward light impart,
Glad my eyes, and warm my heart.
Visit then this soul of mine,
Pierce the gloom of sin and grief;
Fill me, Radiancy divine,
Scatter all my unbelief;
More and more Thyself display,
Shining to the perfect day.