Friday, March 20, 2015
“Unless we form the habit of going to the Bible in bright moments as well as in trouble, we cannot fully respond to its consolations because we lack equilibrium between light and darkness.” — Helen Keller
My great grandfather, who had the unusual name of Early Irving Wiggins, was the pastor of the Copeland Primitive Baptist Church in the Florida Everglades (see picture at the right) around the turn of the last century. It was at a time when there were still Seminole raiding parties such that the men brought their guns to church. Early Irving kept a diary and I got to see it many, many years ago. It was fascinating to read, but I read it long before I became involved with the church, so I didn’t pay enough attention or make copies of it. I do remember some of the more interesting parts. One of the men in the congregation was kicked out according to Early Irving’s diary, “For lingering looks at ladies ankles as they descended from their carriages.” Times have changed. I also remember that he was very upset by the introduction of horseless carriages because he was sure the owners were not paying attention in church. He was sure that the car owners were worried about their cars getting messed up by local children and swamp animals and were not listening to the sermon. I don’t think that part has changed all that much, well, maybe we don’t need to worry about the swamp animals so much now. Until I read his diary, I didn’t know there was even such a thing as the Primitive Baptist Church, but when I was pastor of the community church in Elkins, Arkansas, I met the pastor of the Elkins Primitive Baptist Church. You see, his 69-year-old father had started coming to church every third Sunday. As a community church it was Baptist two Sundays a month, Presbyterian one Sunday a month, and United Methodist on the third Sunday of every month. If there were five Sundays in a month, the Methodists got that extra Sunday. Back to the story, the pastor’s father came to me and wanted to be baptized. He convinced me of his sincerity, I agreed, and we set the date. When the day arrived, his son, the Primitive Baptist pastor came to see his father baptized. Before the service he told me that he had told God he would never set foot in any church but his own, but he had to come see his father baptized, an event he thought would never ever happen. After the service, the father and son and I were standing together, and the son asked the father why he had finally gotten baptized and joined the church. The old man (I am now 70 and calling someone 69 an old man—the irony is not lost on me), told the son that until he had started attending our services the Bible, God, Jesus, and the Christian faith had all been mysteries to him, but I explained things in a way that he could understand, and he could never thank me enough for leading him to Christ. The son slowly shook his head and then extended his hand for me to shake. He said he never dreamed he would one day be thanking what he called a heathen pastor for his father’s faith, but he wanted to shake my hand. The Bible can be difficult to understand with its many contradictions and covering so many thousands of years, but in a quote attributed to Mark Twain (and one of my favorites), “It’s not the parts of the Bible I don’t understand that keep me awake at night, it’s the parts that are crystal clear.” I am thankful and humbled that I was able to help one man understand. I think we all need Sunday School and Bible Studies to help us as well. We need more than just a Sunday sermon, we need to dive in and especially study with others “the parts that are crystal clear.” Eh?