Rebecca West: Words & Music

What Would Jesus Do?

by Bob West

When Sylvia and I first moved to the mountains in 1979, we lived in Sapphire, were members of a church in Sapphire, and worked in Brevard. After a while we moved to Brevard and drove to Sapphire for church. A few years later we traveled to Asheville for church. When we finally began to think about our duty to do "personal work," which is what we called our individual efforts to convert people, we faced a dilemma.

Where would we do our personal work? We lived in Brevard. There was a church by the same name there, but we thought of it as "liberal." They thought of us as "antis." There was 20 miles of difficult, curvy, mountain driving between Brevard and Sapphire, and the "one true" Church in Asheville was an hour of driving time away from Brevard. It would not be practical or convenient to do our teaching among strangers in either of these distant places.

It made more sense for us to work among our neighbors in Brevard.

But what if we were successful? How would we explain to a new convert that they must drive to another town three times a week to be pleasing to God, when they would have to pass many other churches to get there? It made sense to us because we were "mature, dedicated" members. But would it make sense to them? Would they be able to see the difference between our "one true" church and one of those other churches?

The other alternatives would be (1) to start a "conservative" church in Brevard, or (2) see if the Elders of the "liberal" church in Brevard would be willing to assure us that they would not involve the church (with us as members) in action which we believed Christ has not authorized His church to do. If so, we could "place our membership" there with clear consciences. Sylvia and I decided to try option number two first.

I had a few discussions with the preacher of the church in Brevard concerning the issues that divided us. Then I talked with the Elders a few times. Several weeks later on December 5, 1984, they responded to Sylvia and me with this promise:

"As elders we shall carefully and prayerfully oversee the disbursement of the church treasury in a way that we believe will not violate your conscience as long as this practice does not cause us to violate our conscience or neglect our responsibilities as elders of this congregation. Should in our judgment such an occasion of this type arise, we will let you know about it in advance of our taking action."

Sylvia and I were pleased with this response and we "placed our membership" with the Brevard church the following Sunday. Soon others from our religious background who lived in the area placed their membership as well.

As might be expected, it wasn't long before "concerned" brethren had spread the news, and my mother called in tears one day to find out why we had "left the church." Much later, the man who started the gossip apologized to me one Sunday after the worship service while he was visiting this church.

In this church I found myself just warming a pew. The elders seemed reluctant to use me in any public way.

For the first time in many years, I was just a spectator in the church -- an observer who could view what was happening more objectively. As I watched and compared what I saw with what I read in the Bible about the early Christian community, I saw that they were not the same.

It was in this church that I had my eyes opened to the authoritarian eldership concept.

I remember the Elders' first business meeting (with just the men naturally, since according to church doctrine women were excluded). It was more like attending a lecture than a business meeting. In this and other meetings the Elders took turns making announcements and reports. The men were invited to make comments and ask questions, but there did not seem to be any interest in serious input, because final decisions apparently had already been made by the Elders. After a couple of years of asking for financial reports, we were finally allowed to see one. But it was too general to be of much value.

Another concern I had was the sermon topics, their censorship of reading material and what was discussed in Bible classes. It became more and more apparent to me that this system was entirely foreign to what Jesus taught and to the practice of first-century disciples.

It was during this time that I designed and helped build our house. Sylvia was hired and trained by a local insurance agency to be their Commercial Insurance Agent. And I became the Electronic Data Processing Manager of Brevard Federal Savings and Loan Association and their seven branches. I had never been inside a mainframe computer facility before. Now I was placed in charge of one. The following episode of my autobiographical comic strip shows how it happened...

Theophilus comic strip

During the summer of 1987, we heard lessons for several weeks on reaching out to others with the Word of God...

Theophilus comic strip


Theophilus comic strip

And then Sunday during the church service...

Theophilus comic strip

To be continued

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