Rebecca West: Words & Music

Lovers Not Lawyers

by Bob West

I realize now that I had actually begun to focus on Jesus while I was preparing to publish Gospel Teacher magazine in 1976, but I did not resign my membership in organized religion until December 1987.

In the summer of 1987 a few of us had suggested to the Elders that the Church have a seminar to expose the threat of Secular Humanism and invite the public. The Elders said they did not want to do that, but if we wanted to do it ourselves then go ahead. Sylvia and I and two other couples decided to do it.

We had already published and distributed several issues of our newsletter, The Answer, and made some arrangements for the Seminar by the time Sylvia and I gave the Elders our resignation. Since The Answer and the Seminar were not projects of the Church organization, but an effort by a few individual Christians to do personal evangelism, Sylvia and I continued to work on the project with the others.

The Seminar would be free. It would take place from 7 to 8:30 p.m., Thursday through Saturday nights, June 2-4, 1988. The subjects would be Abortion & Euthanasia, Modern Attitudes toward Sex and Homosexuality, and Humanism in Schools and Courts. We arranged for Jim Poppell from Jacksonville, Florida to be our speaker. Jim was knowledgeable and had done lectures on these subjects before.

Lecture time would be 30-45 minutes with questions from the audience to follow. There would be a public address system with a microphone that could be taken out into the audience during the question and answer session. Jim Poppell's lessons would be recorded and duplicated for distribution each night. There would also be tapes on related topics and back issues of The Answer available. We would advertise locally and throughout the area. Those of us who sponsored the seminar shared the expenses.

Unfortunately, with the passing of nearly a year, the Elders were caught by surprise and were a little embarrassed about the Seminar. They felt it was "sprung on them" out of the blue, and that we had been trying to hide what we were doing from them.

Many saw this as an effort to undermine the authority of the Elders or to start another Church. But our actions were innocent in this regard.

Those who expressed an interest in what we were doing (asking about The Answer for example) were told what we were doing. Nothing was hidden from them or anyone else. But at the same time there was no effort to "recruit" people to assist in this work.

The seminar took place on schedule in the American Legion Building which we had rented. There was very good attendance by people from the community and surrounding area, but the local Church of Christ and sister Churches boycotted it.

A few days earlier, the Elders had let the others who were involved with the Seminar know that they were no longer welcome as members. The Elders suggested to them that it might be best "to go our separate ways now under friendly circumstances, as opposed to later under more strained circumstances."

And so on Sunday, June 12th, the others who had been involved with the Seminar did as the Elders suggested and announced their intentions to leave. Then they began meeting in one of their homes. Later they invited Sylvia and I to meet with them.

We looked forward to being with the new group. I had hoped they wouldn't organize right away. Maybe they would take the time to study and rethink the system before they created another just like the one they came out of. Maybe this would be a group we could meet with for Bible study and open discussions without censorship.

The men took turns teaching in the new group's assemblies. When my turn came, I began by saying that God wants us to be lovers, not lawyers, and raised some questions about the way we interpret the Bible. They seemed shocked and upset that I would question our traditional doctrines.

I suggested that God is interested in our hearts, not in rituals. He wants us to love Him with all of our being and love each other as our own selves. The Bible doesn't speak of being faithful to a Church (religious organization), it speaks of commitment to Jesus. Worship is not something we attend two or three times a week. It is something we do with each and every part of our lives as we offer ourselves as spiritual sacrifices unto God.

Theophilus comic strip

There appeared to be no desire to follow up on the interest generated by the seminar, and there had been very little financial help on publishing and distributing The Answer for the last few months. Publishing the paper demanded so much of my time that I decided to ask the others who had been involved with the project, who also made up the new group we were meeting with, if they were still interested.

I was granted permission to give a progress report on The Answer before the church service one Sunday, and to ask if it should be continued. I was appalled at the reaction.

One person said that she didn't want to be on the mailing list and always threw the paper in the trash when it came.

Another complained that the type was too small.

Another was surprised that I would bring up something like this "at church."

Still another said that if we were not going to have "worship services," he was going home.

I told them that I thought I had the answer to my question; we did not need to discuss the matter further. In a way I was relieved. I had another project in mind that needed my attention.

Then the men said they were concerned about what I had been teaching and rapidly fired questions at me, demanding yes or no answers when yes or no would not suffice. At times more than one person was asking different questions at the same time. I was shocked! I felt like an inquisition was taking place.

They seemed to be driven by anger. I was deeply hurt that they would treat me this way, yet I found myself looking upon them with compassion. This surprised me.

Theophilus comic strip

A visual image came to mind of Jesus on the cross. He seemed to be saying, "Bob, in a small way this is how I felt when I looked down from the cross and experienced the anger of that crowd."

His words came to mind: "Father, forgive them. They don't know what they're doing." And I made them my own.

Then they began their "worship service." It was so strange that they could seem so angry and act the way they did toward me one minute and then be singing "Oh how I love Jesus" the next. I wanted to get up and leave, but decided to wait until their "worship service" was over.

Theophilus comic strip

Sylvia and I realized that this group, too, was binding their man-made rules, and left no room for discussion. So, we went back to having devotions in our own home, or with others as the opportunity arose.

And Jesus was right there in our midst.

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