|Vol. 13 No. 5 May 2011||
T. Pierce Brown (deceased)
This is being written a little after midnight about the time that is called the blizzard of 1996, with up to four feet of snow in some sections of the country and almost a foot in my driveway. However, I happened to be reading in the Songs of Solomon and found in chapter 2, verses 11-12, “For, lo, the winter is past; The rain is over and gone; The flowers appear on the earth; The time of the singing of birds is come, And the voice of the turtle-dove is heard in our land.” As I meditated on the contrast between what Solomon said and what I had experienced the day before, two kinds of thoughts struggled within me trying to be born.
First, I thought of the harshness of the cold, biting wind as I shoveled the snow from my driveway. Then, I thought of how trivial that was compared to the difficulty and suffering of those stranded for days in an airport, or freezing to death in a car stuck in a snowdrift. We need to heed the words of the song:When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
Second, I thought that one can dwell on the slush and dirt created by the passing world, or one can dwell on the pristine beauty of the lovely snow; the perfection, symmetry and the unique individuality of each snowflake, and thus reflect on the wisdom, power and glory of God. One can always think of the glass as half empty, or as half full. How one perceives reality will make a difference in his life. One can think of a rose bush that always has thorns that prick, or one can think of a thorn bush that always has beautiful roses to enjoy. The beautiful blanket of God’s gracious goodness and love has provided a cover for the dark and dreary reality of our dead and dirty existence. I need to be able to recognize the reality of both, but if my response is constantly, “The snow may be pretty, but underneath it is treacherous ice, dead limbs and dirt,” I miss much of the joy of life.
Third, this reading from Solomon made me realize that one of the differences in Tennessee and the Sahara desert is that we have a wonderful variety of freshness and beauty in every season of the year, whereas there we seem to find the same bleak harshness at all times. It helped me to realize that I could not have the thrill of climbing the mountain if there were no valleys through which I must pass. There could not be a rainbow without the rain. It may well be that I would not appreciate the gentle warm breeze of spring had I not felt the harsh biting wind of winter.
Fourth, as I meditated on the Song of Solomon, the thought came to me that by faith one may enjoy a future reality even in a depressing present. How many millions have found comfort in many verses in the Bible such as Paul’s statement in 2 Corinthians 5:1, “For we know that if the earthly house of our tabernacle be dissolved, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” I could say in the spirit with Solomon, “The winter is past,” if in my heart it was past. To the eternal and timeless God the springtime is probably as much a reality now as it will be to us when it arrives. So, to the extent that I have the Spirit of God and walk in faith, to that extent I may enjoy the reality of spring in anticipation almost as much as when it actually arrives. We see the unseen (2 Corinthians 4:18).
T. Pierce Brown
For many of us who think of ourselves as conservative and set for the defense of the Gospel, there seem to be trends that disturb us. Apparently, because there are so many who seem to care less and less about the authority as it relates to the role of women in the church, the divorce problem, the authorized forms or acts of worship and various other things, many of us are seeming to lean over backwards in an effort to stand up straight.
For example, many of us are sure that the King James and American Standard versions are generally more accurate than most other translations. We are positive that most of the translations we have examined are not really translations at all, but perverted commentaries, full of error of various kinds. That apparently has led some to the conclusion that any congregation that even allows a member to read from another version without public rebuke is an unsound congregation, unworthy of fellowship or support in any project they espouse.
There are probably those who would withdraw fellowship from one who taught that if a congregation chooses not to have a traditional Sunday School, they are unworthy of fellowship. No doubt there are those who would like to send a questionnaire to every congregation or preacher to test their stand on every issue, from whether they approve of women preachers to whether they have a bus ministry. Let me make it emphatically clear that I think a person who is unwilling to let his views on any subject be known is probably unworthy of our confidence. However, this does not mean that we should approach every person or congregation with suspicion, demanding that they answer all questions to our satisfaction. Nor does it mean that if they have not done that, we should refuse to assist them in any effort they make to win souls or carry on God’s work.
The thought was especially impressed upon me the other day when I was on a panel, answering questions from the audience about many things. The question was raised by a boy whose father was a Pentecostal, “Why, if you are so concerned about doing what the Bible says, you do not obey 1 Timothy 2:8, which teaches that men should pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands? Is there anything wrong with lifting up our hands when we pray?”
My reply was something like this: I do not teach men to disregard any Bible teaching. However, we need to make sure we understand what it teaches. With reference to 1 Timothy 2:8, let us notice what it does and does not teach. First, when it says that men should pray in every place, it does not authorize women to pray, lift up hands or do anything else. Of course women may do various things, including praying and lifting up hands, but this verse does not relate to it. The word translated “men” is from a Greek word meaning “male beings” and is not the general word for mankind, which includes females.
Second, when it says “every where,” it does not mean that if you get in the car or bathtub and do not pray, you have disobeyed God. However, if men choose to pray there or at any other place, they are authorized to do so, no matter what the Supreme Court may say.
Third, when it says, “lifting up holy hands,” it does not refer to the literal raising up of the hands, when we pray, or at any other time. Note some examples of this kind of metaphorical language. In John 13:18 Jesus said in speaking of Judas, “He that eateth bread with me hath lifted up his heel against me.” Any person who really thinks that Judas had to literally lift up his heel against Christ in order to fulfill this prophecy will probably get no value from any further examination of God’s Word. In Hebrews 12:12, the writer says, “Lift up the hands that hang down, and the feeble knees.” Surely no one would assume that he means to literally go around checking on whose hands are hanging down and lifting them up! James 4:8 says, “Cleanse your hands, ye sinners,” but we should certainly understand that the literal washing of one’s hands in water is not involved. It should be evident to any thoughtful person that the expression “lifting up holy hands” does not relate to literally lifting up the hands as we pray.
Yet, we still have not answered the question, “Is there anything wrong with literally lifting up our hands when we pray?” The answer is, “No, no more than there is anything wrong with lifting up the feeble knees, or a sinner literally washing his hands.” If one asks, “May one stand on his head when he prays?” or “May one crawl under his car when he prays?” he may answer the question the same way. The text given, though, applies to one question about as much as it does to the others.
If a person is lifting up his hands in order to create some sort of emotional impression on others, he needs to examine his motives. Is he praying to be seen of men? If not, what is his purpose? If so, he is under the same condemnation as the scribes in Mark 12:38-40 where Jesus says, “Beware of the scribes, who desire to walk in long robes, and to have salutations in the marketplaces, and chief seats in the synagogues, and chief places at feasts: they that devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers; these shall receive greater condemnation.” There is nothing wrong with wearing long robes or having salutations in the market place. There is nothing necessarily wrong with long prayers, for Jesus prayed all night. The thing that is wrong is that those things were done for a show, to impress others. If a person had his head bowed and his eyes closed in reverent concentration on what he was asking God, he would not know whether anyone else had his hands raised or not. However, if his raising his hands and swaying back and forth was a part of some ritualistic effort that was merely to get someone else in a frenzy or to impress them with something you seem to have, it is without authority.
My purpose in this article is to point out that when I basically said, “There is nothing necessarily wrong in a person literally lifting up his hands when he prays,” there are probably some brethren who would accuse me of being loose or liberal on the Pentecostal issue, and would probably feel that they should send me a questionnaire including, “How do you feel about those who claim to talk in tongues?” Then, no matter how I answer all questions, they would suggest to others that they refuse to support or cooperate in any program with which I am involved.
One of the problems with some questionnaires that try to establish the position or soundness of a person is that they are in danger of being slanted, misunderstood or misused. I remember that about 40 years ago when I was preaching about the evils of the modern dance, a teacher in the local school had her class on the school ground doing what they called “folk dancing.” It involved the children skipping around in a circle and going in and out under the other’s upraised arms, if I remember correctly. If she had been asked the question, “Does your preacher oppose dancing?” whether she answered, “Yes” or “No,” the answer would have been misleading. I then and now oppose some kinds of dancing, but did not oppose children skipping around in a circle, no matter if it was called “dancing.”
My point in this article is that some of us are disturbed by a growing number of persons and churches who really need to be questioned about the things they uphold or fail to uphold. Yet, we are also disturbed by vigilante approach of some brethren who have their list of questions by which they determine the soundness of some brethren. The situation is so bad in some places, that if my list of questions differs from yours, and I leave off one, such as “What version of the Bible do you use?” I may be under almost as much suspicion as if my answer to any of the questions differed from what yours would be.
If your list included, “Does the Holy Spirit operate separate and apart from the Bible?” a simple yes, or no answer might satisfy you, but it would not satisfy me. The fact that I think I can prove that the Holy Spirit does not operate to convert anyone apart from His Word as revealed in the Bible does not mean that I deny that the Holy Spirit may operate in upholding the universe, making the grass green or in some providential way. I find brethren often asking, “Do you stand with Brother Guy Woods or brother Gus Nichols on the question?” I resent and abhor that tendency as much as the other trends I have mentioned. I make no effort to stand with either one, and may differ with both.
Therefore, I am disturbed on the one hand by the loose and liberal attitude of some brethren who seem afraid to be questioned or give a specific and definitive answer to their stand on any question. On the other hand, I am disturbed by the brethren who may assume that their creedal tendencies and catechisms are the best ways to determine which brethren they shun and which projects they support or fail to support. Because of this, I have been accused of “straddling the fence,” but that does not disturb me unduly. What does disturb me is that there seems to be an increasing polarization in the brotherhood about some things that do not involve the eternal destiny of souls. If you are walking in the woods where there are rattlesnakes, you need to be concerned enough about them to walk with care. You should not be so concerned that you lose awareness of God’s majesty as the heavens declare His glory and the earth His handiwork.